Stevenage put in a battling performance but fell just short in a narrow 3-2 defeat at Portsmouth this evening.
In a much improved display from recent weeks Stevenage took the lead through Dean Wells before goals from Jed Wallace and Miles Storey turned the game on its head. Boro fought back though and equalised when Chris Beardsley capitalised on a Joe Devera mistake to tuck home with 17 minutes remaining. But Devera made amends with a splendid effort from distance moments later to give the hosts all three points in an entertaining game.
Graham Westley made just the one change from Saturday’s win with Charlie Adams coming in for Tom Pett, who dropped to the bench. Andy Bond also returned amongst the subs replacing Tom Conlon.
The visitors took the game to Portsmouth in the early stages with the hosts struggling to get out of their own half in the opening exchanges. With just a minute on the clock a Dean Parrett free-kick found Chris Whelpdale in the box, whose header across goal was scrambled clear, before Charlie Lee tried a spectacular half-volley from 25 yards which dipped just too late to trouble Jones.
Moments later Charlie Adams showed neat footwork on the left to get into the area, but a challenge came in just as he looked to shoot and the danger was gone.
It took until 12 minutes for Pompey to really advance towards the Boro box with Shorey swinging in a dangerous cross and Day having to readjust to stop a Ronnie Henry back header looping over him.
With the 20-minute mark approaching the game suddenly burst into life with Dunne putting in a thundering challenge on Adams to thwart a Boro counter, before Day came out well to head a dangerous through-ball out for a throw.
However Boro deservedly took the lead two minutes later after Henry had won Boro a corner. Parrett’s first effort was headed behind for another corner and when the second delivery was headed back by Charles at the back post, there was Dean Wells to volley home expertly. 1-0 to Stevenage.
Buoyed by that goal Graham Westley's men continued to push forward and when Whelpdale found Lee with a beautiful cross it looked like 2-0, only for an interception to come in before the ball could drop for Charlie and the danger was cleared.
Pompey responded and were looking lively down the flanks but Boro stood firm and were able to mop up at the back. Even when the hosts won a couple of corners in quick succession the visitors never really looked in danger, until one cross-field ball evaded the Boro defence and found Jed Wallace at the back stick. Whilst his volley was beaten away by Day for a corner, his next sight on goal saw the equaliser, as he capitalised on Boro’s failure to clear that corner to find the bottom corner with a deflected effort.
Sparked into life by that equaliser, Pompey flooded forward again and had the best of the rest of the half. With 10 minutes remaining before the break a slip by Day nearly caused embarrassment, but the ‘keeper recovered to fall back onto the ball just inside the box. Cues cries of derision from the home faithful and home dugout, protesting against the linesman’s decision, with referee Russell then having to calm the home management.
Craig Westcarr – a thorn in Boro’s side over the years – was next to threaten for Pompey when he found space inside the box but the striker pulled his shot agonizingly wide of Day’s far post as the teams went in level at the break.
With one goal to his name already, the lively Wallace reminded Boro of his shooting prowess with the first effort of the second half just two minutes after half-time. At the other end Lee threatened to burst through when he span the last defender on the half-way line, but instead ended up with a caution after narrowly mistiming a tackle on a covering defender.
If that was close, the visitors went even closer to retaking the lead on 55 minutes. Beardsley did well to lay the ball off to Whelpdale, who took a touch before unleashing a rocket which cannoned off the inside of the post and out for a throw.
However as Boro continued to push forward it was Pompey who took the lead moments later on the counter. A long ball from the half-way line found the nippy Storey, who took on Wells before expertly firing home into the far corner. 2-1 to Portsmouth.
In an action-packed half Lee whipped a shot just past the far post on the hour as Boro continued to apply pressure and when Parrett shook off a weak challenge and had a pop at goal five minutes later, it needed Jones to tip the low effort behind for a corner.
That pressure finally told as Boro equalised on 73 minutes when Beardsley latched onto a loose back-header from Devera, rounded Jones and calmly slotted home to send the visiting fans behind the goal into ecstasy.
Andy Bond replaced the battered and bruised Parrett moments later as Westcarr won a corner, with the hosts looking for an immediate response. And frustratingly it was a response they got with the eventual winner from an unlikely source. Moments after his mistake gifted Boro the equaliser, up popped Devera with a thunderous effort which flew past a static Day and into the back of the net from distance.
Lee forced Jones into a low save from a free-kick and Charles nodded a long Whelpdale throw right down the keeper’s throat as Boro kept up the pressure in the closing stages. But for all their efforts they failed to find another equaliser, condemning them to defeat by the odd goal in five.
Portsmouth: Jones, Devera, Robinson, Chorley, Shorey, Wallace (Ertl 90), Dunne, Hollands, Holmes, Storey, Westcarr (Atangana 88)
Subs not used: Poke, Butler, Barcham, Agyemang, Taylor
Stevenage: Day, Henry, Ashton, Wells, Charles, Whelpdale, Parrett (Bond 76), McAllister, Adams (Clarke 84), Lee, Beardsley
Subs not used: Beasant, Pett, Okimo, Lancaster, Jebb
Referee: Mick Russell
Attendance: 13,281 (163 away)