Exeter City lost for the first time this season as a single second half strike for Portsmouth separated the two sides, despite a strong defensive display.
The Grecians’ goalkeeper Vil Sinisalo made a number of smart saves throughout the match. However, he could do nothing to stop Colby Bishop’s thunderous 70th minute shot in front of over 17,000 fans at Fratton Park.
Only two changes were made by Gary Caldwell to his starting lineup from Saturday’s draw with Blackpool, with James Scott making his first league start of the season and Zak Jules also coming in.
In front of the cameras at Fratton Park the match took a while to get rolling. Pompey’s Anthony Scully got in behind the city backline before sending the ball out of play and then Jack Aitchison repeated the favour, shooting high over the bar in the opening ten minutes.
Later, Sinisalo was called into action at his near post, gathering a low shot from forward Colby Bishop.
Once again auditioning in a more advanced role behind striker James Scott, Demitiri Mitchell then had his first opportunity to take on the Blues backline as he was played into the box by Aitchison. On the ball, the number seven dropped his shoulder and sat down two defenders before crossing into the six-yard box. That cross was immediately rebounded back out to Mitchell, but he could only shoot high and over.
Portsmouth then began to intensify their pressure but Sinisalo showed his class, getting down quick to push away Alex Robertson’s shot from the edge of the penalty area. The goalkeeper did briefly cause Grecians’ hearts to relocate to their mouths when, minutes later, his clearance hit against the back of a man in blue and fizzed up into the air, over the penalty area before Alex Hartridge could clear.
Another stop from the Aston Villa loanee came moments later though, this time denying Connor Ogvile with a dramatic flying save to his right.
In an effort to alleviate increasing Pompey pressure, Dion Rankine took matters into his own hands, carrying the ball from the Grecians’ half to the edge of the opposition D. However his shot, marking City’s first on target, was tame and straight at the goalkeeper.
Portsmouth responded swifty, heading down towards the away fans and delivering a low cross into the box. City struggled to clear and the ball reached Bishop, who was thwarted again by Sinisalol. The final action of the half came with a shot from the edge of the box from Robertson, who sent the ball just wide of the post.
City had the first shot after the break, albeit unintentionally, as Pierce Sweeney’s inswinging freekick bounced all the way through to the goalkeeper who had to palm the ball away, after Mitchell was fouled.
The Grecians made an early double substitution, introducing Sam Nombe and Reece Cole. Nombe quickly made an impact by chasing down a loose ball and delivering a cross into the box, but unfortunately there was nobody on the end of it in a black shirt.
Robertson, who went close from range in the first half, then had an opportunity from a central free kick around 30 yards from goal, and his shot was only inches over the top of City’s crossbar.
The towering Zak Jules then challenged Portsmouth with a header straight at Norris in goal, before Trevitt had a low cross held as City began to challenge more.
However, City had to stay wary to Portsmouth’s counter attacks, as Gavin Whyte proved with a dart towards the Grecians’ goal. His shot was blocked out for a throw in, and from that the ball was worked across the box to Ogvile whose shot was saved again by Sinisalo.
As the game wore on more changes were being made from the bench, and one of those for Portsmouth proved vital in setting up their winner.
Former City man Jack Sparkes collected the ball midway through City’s half, turned and then played in Colby Bishop who had spotted a gap in the Grecians’ defence. The number nine took two touches to set himself before he fired high into the net, giving Sinisalo no chance.
City responded though with increased attacks at Portsmouth’s goal, and Cole had a shot from the edge of the box parried by the goalkeeper, but Ryan Trevitt couldn’t get to it quick enough to have a shot from the rebound.
The Grecians’ best chance came just as the clock ticked over into added time, as Reece Cole’s deep freekick was headed across the box to Pierce Sweeney. From mere yards out, Sweeney’s header was saved by Morris who tipped the ball onto the post.
That marked City’s best and final opportunity to level the match, and the Grecians returned west empty handed.
City: Sinisalo, Rankine, Sweeney, Aimson ©, Hartridge (Taylor), Jules (Harper), Carroll (Cox), Trevitt, Aitchison, Mitchell (Nombe), Scott (Cole)
Subs not used: Woods, Borges
Portsmouth: Norris, Rafferty, Poole, Shaughnessy, Ogilvie, Pack ©, Morrell (Raggett), Whyte (Sparkes), Robertson (Saydee), Scully (Kamara), Bishop
Subs not used: Schofield, Swanson, Yengi
Referee: Tom Reeves
Attendance: 17,592 (530 away)