A stoppage time equaliser from Brett Williams saw a spirited Stevenage take a deserved point away at Portsmouth this evening.
A 76th minute strike from sub Connor Chaplin had looked like securing Portsmouth all three points but Boro had other ideas, with sub Williams finishing off a long throw from fellow sub Charlie Lee to snatch a draw.
Teddy Sheringham made three changes to his starting XI with Michael Tonge handed a debut in place of the suspended Steve Schumacher, Tom Pett replacing the injured Chris Whelpdale and Dipo Akinyemi returning from injury to replace Tom Conlon. Dean Wells returned from injury and there was a welcome return to the match day squad to Charlie Lee.
Portsmouth started brightly under the Fratton Park floodlights and there was just under a minute on the clock when Gary Roberts forced Jesse Joronen into a smart stop. The Finn then turned Rommy Boco’s drive behind two minutes later and watched Kyle Bennett’s speculative effort from 30 yards fly wide, as Pompey’s attacking midfield trio behind Matt Tubbs all had early efforts.
Stevenage, however were enjoying a decent start themselves and forced three corners in the opening 12 minutes as Kennedy, Parrett, Akinyemi, Gnanduillet and in particular Pett – playing centrally - were looking bright and linking up well together.
Just past the quarter hour Pett drove into the box from the right and put a teasing ball right across goal but nobody was there to convert. However Akinyemi recovered possession on the left and found Parrett, whose cross to the back post was headed wide by Gnanduillet.
Boro continued to look the brightest team for the opening 20 minutes and when Gnanduillet held the ball up well and laid it back for Pett, 30 yards from goal, the winger tried to catch Aaron McCarey out with a first time effort that flew over.
Portsmouth, however, grew into the half and gradually began to force Boro back and create chances of their own. A 21st minute Boco header was comfortable for Joronen and two minutes later Pompey had a penalty shout when Jerome Okimo challenged Davies from behind, but referee Woolmer deemed it a good tackle and waved away appeals.
Kyle Bennett blasted over as space opened up in front of him and then Boro were lucky to escape on the half hour when Hughes slipped, but Gary Roberts could only blast Tubbs’ ball across into the side netting when more composure would have surely been the better option.
Stevenage were working hard all over the pitch with Kennedy and Akinyemi virtually acting as full-backs at times as they thwarted Pompey’s attacking momentum, with McCombe in particular clearing time and time again with his head and Okimo defending well on the left.
After their early attacking intent Boro’s attacking force was, however they still created a couple of half-chances to take the lead. First great footwork by Gnanduillet played in Okimo with the left-back delivering what would have been a perfect cross for the Frenchman, had he been there, with the ball going over Kennedy.
Then three minutes before the break a good run by Gnanduillet on the counter attack saw the big striker ignore the brilliant run of Parrett and try to go alone, only for a Pompey foot to diver the ball back to the ‘keeper as he threatened to burst through.
After a goalless first half Stevenage came on for the second in similar fashion and had a golden opportunity to take the lead three minutes in. Great build-up play on the edge of the box saw Akinyemi found in-space, on-side but he fired wide of the far post with only McCarey to beat.
With Pompey struggling to find their rhythm and the home fans beginning to grumble, Boro were on top but eventually the hosts began to push forward once again. The shot-happy Roberts saw a Boro foot deflect another effort behind on 51 minutes and from the resulting corner the ball fell to Bennett, but he could only curl over.
Corners came and went for the hosts as Boro remained alert, with Paul Cook’s men then reverting to shots from distance in an effort to break the deadlock. Joronen dived to his left to turn behind a Michael Doyle effort from 25 yards before Bennett tried his luck from 35 yards but saw the ball fly over.
The diminutive Bennett saw another shot straight at Joronen and then again fired tamely at goal with Michael Tonge picking up a debut booking for attempting to halt his run in an otherwise impressive performance.
Charlie Lee replaced Kennedy with 18 minutes remaining in an attacking change by Stevenage but four minutes later the host broke the deadlock. Centre-back Adam Webster was allowed to run forward into the Boro half and play a low ball into the box that evaded McCombe’s outstretched foot and sub Connor Chaplin beat Joronen at his near post with a first-time shot.
Stevenage pushed forward looking for that equaliser and on 86 minutes Okimo showed great feet to beat two men out wide and get into the box, only for Pett to blaze over after space opened up for him.
Chaplin curled inches wide on the counter as Pompey looked to seal all three points but instead it was Stevenage who stole a point in dramatic style in five minutes of injury time. A long throw from Lee was flicked on and there was Williams to get in front of McCarey to apply a flicked finish to equalise.
Stevenage saw out late pressure to secure a great point and can now head to Northampton Town on Saturday with great confidence.
Portsmouth: McCarey, Davies, Stevens, Webster, Burgess, Barton (Atangana 79), Doyle, Boco (Chaplin 70), Roberts, Bennett, Tubbs (Lavery 60)
Subs not used: Murphy, Naismith, Clarke, Atangana, Hollands
Stevenage: Day, Franks, McCombe, Hughes, Okimo, Tonge, Parrett (Williams 90), Pett, Akinyemi (Conlon 57), Kennedy (Lee 71), Gnanduillet
Subs not used: Day, Wells, Jebb, Loza
Referee: Andy Woolmer
Attendance: 14,900 (133 away)