Report: Portsmouth 3 Exeter City 2
Exeter City were on the wrong end of a 3-2 scoreline in their first visit to Fratton Park for over 30 years.
Something of a freak goal just before the interval by Ricky Holmes was followed by a Ryan Bird brace, as the game seemed to be running away from City.
The Grecians made a spirited fightback with goals from Danny Coles and John O’Flynn, but ultimately it wasn’t quite enough as the hosts saw out the late City onslaught to keep all three points.
By the end, the home faithful were whistling for full-time as City had piled bodies forward, but the equaliser was just elusive for Exeter.
In the absence of Pat Baldwin, who missed out with a knee injury, Jordan Moore-Taylor began the game at centre-half as part of a five-man defence – Arron Davies began in the right-back berth, with Scot Bennett and captain Danny Coles also in the centre.
Striker Sam Parkin began the match leading the line alone, with Alan Gow behind him, and teenager Matt Grimes in the centre of the park following a fine display in midweek against Crystal Palace’s under-21s.
Following a Remembrance Day service at Fratton Park, the Grecians kicked off into a swirling wind, meaning that anything played into the air was liable to swing wildly.
So it was little surprise that the first chances of note came with the ball played on the deck. It was Jed Wallace on the right flank who twice carved out opportunities at the byline with pieces of individual skill – City dealt with both under pressure.
City’s threats were coming on the counter, and were being well-fashioned with the quick feet of Grimes, Liam Sercombe and Tommy Doherty to pull the strings. Good countering moves weren’t resulting in efforts on goal, until Sercombe drew a save from Trevor Carson after a blistering run down the right.
Grimes was a fraction away from netting a first senior goal for the Grecians with more progressive play by City. A ball infield from Woodman set up the midfielder to shoot, and Carson was relieved to see the ball clip the top of the bar as he was backtracking.
The Grecians were putting in workmanlike shifts all over the field and when Gow nicked the ball in the centre-circle, he made a direct beeline for goal – but the Scotsman played the ball too late for Parkin, who had halted his run to prevent the offside.
Gow’s dribbling consistently had Pompey concerned and another forward burst was followed by a drilled shot – Carson had to make a reaction save to keep the scores level.
But it was on the cusp of half-time that the hosts made the breakthrough. Holmes, on the left touchline, spotted an opportunity to loop a shot goalwards – and as it caught a gust of wind, it sailed over the head of Artur Krysiak and dropped in.
Half-time: Portsmouth 1 Exeter City 0
No sooner had the second period begun than the hosts had extended their lead. It was Wallace, who had been the danger-man for Pompey in the first half, that delivered a whipped ball to the back post. Bird rose highest and headed back across goal, and the ball trickled inside the post.
With the wind in their sales – both proverbially and literally – Pompey looked to threaten every time they ventured forward. Krysiak was called upon to palm clear as Wallace looked to add his name to the scoresheet from a narrow angle.
City twice came close to reducing the arrears when Grimes latched onto a Davies free-kick, but his header was wayward.
It felt like it was going to be one of those frustrating days for City when a flick-on by Coles was meet by Davies, who saw his shot saved under the crossbar by the scrambling body of Carson.
And the victory was all but sealed when Bird thundered a header high into the net from close range, as sub Andy Barcham delivered a peach of a cross.
City did manage to reduce the arrears shortly after as Coles was arriving in the box to power in a header from a Davies cross, which had too much on it for Carson to deal with.
Hopes of a fightback were all but quashed when a Davies corner was deflected up in the air and the ball was nodded off the line by a Pompey head.
But sub John O’Flynn had other ideas, as he nicked in ahead of the defence to poke beyond Carson and drag the Grecians to within a goal.
And Tom Nichols, making his first appearance of the season, came within a whisker of levelling matters. Woodman’s cross was met by a great header on the stretch, which Carson sprawled to save.
Portsmouth committed to defending on their goal-line for the final minutes, and they successfully navigated their way to three points.
Full-time: Portsmouth 3 Exeter City 2
Portsmouth: Carson; Moutaoukil, N’Gala, Devara, Bradley; Wallace (Barcham), Ferry (Ertl), Racon, Holmes; Bird, Agyemang (Connolly).
Subs (not used): Smith, Cooper, East, Padovani.
Goals: Holmes (45), Bird (49, 71).
Exeter City: Krysiak; Bennett, Coles, Moore-Taylor (O’Flynn), Woodman; Sercombe; Doherty (Gill), Grimes; Davies, Gow (Nichols); Parkin.
Subs (not used): Pym, Keohane, Tillson, Wheeler.
Goals: Coles (75), O’Flynn (84).
Attendance: 16,169 (1,304 away).
Referee: O. Langford