Watkins strikes late to save a point for CityLine-Ups
Exeter City: Olejnik, Woodman, Ribeiro (Morrison 79’), Oakley, Holmes, Nicholls, Moore-Taylor (capt), Wheeler, Watkins, Stockley (Noble 65’), Brown (Grant 65’).
Subs: McAllister, Tillson, Pym, Taylor.
Goals: Watkins 90’
Portsmouth: Fulton, Davies, Burgess, Webster, Stevens; Hollands, Doyle (capt), Naismith, Chaplin (Evans 79’), Bennett (Barton 82’), McNulty.
Subs: Bass, Freeman, Clarke, Haunstrup, Tollitt.
Goals: Chaplin 31’
Referee: Brendan Malone
A LAST-GASP strike from Ollie Watkins salvaged a point for City against play-off chasing Portsmouth at St James Park.
During an otherwise largely uneventful first-half, Pompey academy product Conor Chaplin had left the Grecians one down at the half-time interval. But City displayed a great willingness to fight to the end by scoring another late goal, and this time it was Watkins who equalised at the death following an intricate one-two with Clinton Morrison.
There were four changes to the City side that came away from the Lamex Stadium victorious three days ago. Jayden Stockley, who featured for Pompey against City at Fratton Park last September, was recalled to the starting eleven having netted two late goals against Stevenage at the weekend. Ollie Watkins was handed his fourth start of the season on the left flank, and Lee Holmes and Troy Brown also resumed first-team duties. The visitors, who begun the evening in fifth place in Sky Bet League 2, were unchanged from the side that beat Cambridge United at the weekend.
Pompey flew out the traps, crafting the first chance of the game almost immediately after kick-off. Kal Naismith accelerated well to get to the byline and fire a cross to the far-post, but Conor Chaplain’s touch just outside the six-yard box was too heavy, and Bobby Olejnik advanced off his line to gather easily.
The game entered somewhat of a lull after the away side’s early chance as the two sides went toe-to-toe in the middle of the park. Portsmouth chalked up another effort on goal in the twelfth minute as ex-Peterborough United centre-back Christian Burgess headed over following a corner swung in by Ben Davies from the right-hand side.
Pompey felt they had a claim for a penalty in the twenty-fourth minute after Troy Brown slid in for a challenge in the area, but the referee waved away the protests and pointed for a corner instead. The resultant corner eventually found its way to Portsmouth captain Michael Doyle, who connected well with a half-volley from thirty-yards out to force Olejnik into a good stop at his near-post.
The game had sparked into life by the mid-way point of the first-half with both sides looking to get on the front foot. Jayden Stockley was presented with a good opportunity to repeat his Lamex Stadium heroics on the half-hour mark, but headed straight at Ryan Fulton having connected with Christian Ribeiro’s cross from the right.
Just after the Grecians had strung together their first meaningful move, the visitors took the lead as academy product Chaplain chested the ball down before firing past Olejnik from twenty-yards out. Chaplain could have doubled his and Portsmouth’s tally for the evening three minutes later, but the youngster couldn’t make a clean connection with Marc McNulty’s cross.
Despite falling behind, the Grecians displayed no signs of feeling sorry for themselves as they threatened twice in the forty-second minute. First Holmes headed wide with Stockley waiting to pounce at the far-post, before Ollie Watkins’ brought a good save out of Fulton after cutting in from the left-hand side and releasing a powerful drive on his right. Watkins’ effort was the last of the half, leaving City with a one-goal deficit to overturn after the interval.
HALF-TIME: EXETER CITY 0-1 PORTSMOUTH
The half-time break disrupted the momentum of the game as the ball once again became locked in midfield during the opening stages of the second-period. Kyle Bennett, brother of Blackburn Rovers’ winger Elliott Bennett, attempt a shot three minutes after the restart but skewed his effort high, wide and into the Big Bank. The Grecians responded with a chance of their own five minutes later. Lee Holmes’ whipped his corner into the danger area with an in-swinger from the right-hand side, though no City could work the space for an effort on goal within a crowded six-yard box.
Portsmouth came close to doubling their lead on the hour mark. After Olejnik did well to burst off his line and challenge Chaplain, the lively Pompey striker was quick to his feet to have another pop at goal with the City keeper left stranded, but rolled his effort just wide of the post.
Stockley was looking like the Grecians’ liveliest attacking outlet, and the five-goal loanee striker came close with two chances in quick succession. First he saw his header blocked inside the Pompey area in the sixty-third minute, before his inventive shot on the turn after the next phase of play bounced just wide. It was to be Stockley’s last impact on the game, as he was replaced two minutes later by David Noble. Joel Grant was also introduced in place of Troy Brown as City boss Paul Tisdale looked to switch things up going into the last quarter of the game.
In the sixty-eighth minute Watkins pivoted well to work the space for a shot on goal from the left, but once again saw a Pompey defender get across quickly to prevent the shot from reaching its intended target. Chaplain had caused City problems all evening, and the nippy striker came close again five minutes after Watkins’ strike - this time curling a free-kick narrowly over the bar from the edge of the area.
Alex Nicholls collected a loose ball on edge of the Pompey area with three minutes to spare, but his speculative strike flew over the cross bar and out of St James Park.
The home side’s persistence was rewarded though, as the Grecians once again found the goal-scoring touch in the dying stages. A neat one-two between substitute Clinton Morrison and Ollie Watkins opened up the space for City's own academy graduate to strike at goal, and the winger didn’t disappoint, striking hard and low as the ball flashed past Fulton at his near-post to evoke memories of his late strike against Port Vale last December.
There was still time for Alex Nicholls to come close with a well-struck free-kick in stoppage-time, but Fulton was well-positioned to deny the City forward and prevent the Grecians from completing a last-second turn-around. A good point for City though, and one that continues a run of 1-1 home league draws with Portsmouth in each of the last three seasons.
FULL-TIME: EXETER CITY 1-1 PORTSMOUTH
Attendance: 3,855 (695 away)
Man of the Match: Matt Oakley