Naismith grabs late winner
Pompey’s hopes of progressing in the Checkatrade Trophy remain alive thanks to a late winner against Bristol Rovers.
Kal Naismith’s long-range strike settled the group stage encounter after Michael Smith had seen his early penalty saved.
The Blues must now hope that Reading under-21s beat Yeovil on Wednesday night to bring the fight for second place down to either goal difference or goals scored.
But the game attracted a crowd of just 1,200 – the lowest attendance at Fratton Park for a competitive post-war fixture.
Paul Cook rung the changes from the side that exited the FA Cup against Wycombe at the weekend.
Adam Buxton, Milan Lalkovic and Ben Close were the only players to keep their place, with the latter handed the captain’s armband.
Those coming into the line-up included a fit-again Drew Talbot and Amine Linganzi, whose suspension does not include games in this competition.
Rovers technically stuck to the rules by only making six changes, although they did replace keeper Kelle Roos with Will Puddy after just 142 seconds.
And the first meaningful piece of action for the new man between the sticks was to give away a penalty.
Smith took advantage of a heavy touch to steal possession and Puddy brought him down, with referee James Adcock pointing straight to the spot.
It was Smith who stepped up to take the penalty and it was certainly not the worst attempt, but the keeper guessed the right way and saved low to his right.
The visitors soon had a chance to make Pompey pay for their profligacy, but Luke James’ shot was deflected wide.
Rory Gaffney then missed an excellent opportunity to break the deadlock after being picked out by Daniel Leadbitter.
He was in space and just a couple of yards out, but headed the ball into the turf and watched as it bounced narrowly over the crossbar.
And James went close for Rovers with an opportunistic long-range strike that bounced back off the woodwork.
But the match settled down after all that early action, with neither keeper given too much to do for the rest of the half.
Liam O’Brien made a regulation stop to deny Jermaine Easter, while Naismith curled a free-kick wide in stoppage-time.
Half-Time: Pompey 0 Bristol Rovers 0
The second half began at the same pedestrian pace, but the Blues should have forged ahead on 55 minutes.
Naismith’s free-kick found Linganzi in the box, but the midfielder – like Gaffney before the break – directed his header into the ground and it bounced over.
And Naismith sent in another decent delivery moments later following a foul on Buxton, only for the ball to fly just out of reach for Jack Whatmough.
There was a chance at the other end when Adcock waved play on following a foul on James by Tom Davies.
Leadbitter went charging through on goal, but before he could get a shot away, Whatmough made a superb tackle inside the box to clear the danger.
The game soon turned back into a somewhat turgid encounter, however, and Cook made a double switch on 73 minutes to try to liven things up.
Buxton and Close were the two to make way, with Danny Rose and Gareth Evans coming on to replace them.
The third and final substitution arrived soon after, with Kyle Bennett swapped for Noel Hunt, as Smith was given a partner up front.
And he might have grabbed an immediate goal, only to get tangled up with Rose as the duo both tried to get on the end of Smith’s low cross.
Once again it was a Naismith free-kick that saw Pompey go close on 87 minutes, as Puddy went too far to the right and almost got caught out.
But NAISMITH did grab the winner just seconds later, courtesy of an ambitious 35-yard drive with enough swerve to deceive the keeper.
Pompey (4-2-3-1): O’Brien; Talbot, Whatmough, T.Davies, Buxton (Rose 73); Linganzi, Close (c) (Evans 73); Naismith, Lalkovic, Bennett (Hunt 77); Smith
Goals: Naismith 88
Booked: Bennett, T.Davies
Subs not used: Hall, Hyam, Clarke, Chaplin
Bristol Rovers (4-1-2-1-2): Roos (Puddy 3); Leadbitter, McChrystal (c), Hartley, Roberts; Boateng; Mansell, Colkett; Easter (Clarke 78); James, Gaffney (Harrison 80)
Booked: Mansell, McChrystal
Subs not used: Lockyer, Montano, Lines, Moore
Referee: James Adcock
Attendance: 1,200 (65 away fans)