Burton Albion lost their second successive home game after a disappointing performance saw them slip to a 2-1 defeat to Portsmouth. The visitors were sharper to the ball and carried the greater attacking threat and Albion had Jordan Pickford to thank that it was not a heavier scoreline making three or four excellent saves on his return to the side.
Ricky Holmes, the scourge of Albion for his former club Barnet last season, opened the scoring on 34 minutes after Pickford had made an excellent save to deny Patrick Agyemang and the livewire winger was on hand to slide home the rebound. Simon Ferry added a second, following in, when Pickford saved Holmes shot but could not stop the rebound falling into the path of the midfielder. Portsmouth were reduced to ten men for the final five minutes when right back Yassin Moutaouakil kicked out at Jimmy Phillips and saw red.
Albion showed four changes to the side that lost for the first time last weekend against Oxford. Sunderland goalkeeper Pickford returned to the club after treatment on a knee injury and immediately came back into the side. With Ian Sharps starting his three match suspension Zander Diamond's return to fitness was timely and he came back into the side for his first appearance of the season although Phil Edwards also kept his place slotting in at right back with Rory Delap missing out with a slight knock. Pacey winger Chris Hussey was nursing a hamstring strain so Jimmy Phillips came in on the right allowing Adam McGurk to switch to his more favoured left flank.
It was Pompey who carved out the first clear cut opportunity on eight minutes when some patient build up found Patrick Agyemang inside the box. The burly striker showed a deft touch to backheel the ball into the path of Jed Wallace who looked destined to slide the ball home until Pickford came out, spread himself well and managed to divert the ball wide of the post.
Burton's first chance came nineteen minutes in as Burton broke free of their defensive shackles. Michael Symes flicked a long ball forwards for Rene Howe but having turned his man just outside the box he flashed a shot over the crossbar.
The same combination created a chance for former Pompey loanee Adam Reed on 23 minutes. Howe was unable to quite turn his man inside the box and laid the ball back into the path of Reed but on his weaker left foot scooped the ball wide of the target without troubling keeper John Sullivan.
The game was opening out into an end to end encounter when Portsmouth grabbed the lead in the 33rd minute. Damien McCrory failed to cut out a loose ball in midfield allowing Jed Wallace to scamper away down the right all the way to the edge of the Burton penalty area. His cross picked out Agyemang who looked certain to score with his downward header until Pickford clawed the ball away from goal only for Ricky HOLMES to pounce on the loose ball and guide it into the back of the net from close range.
Albion were thankful to Pickford's agility minutes later as Pompey again exploited space on the right to deliver an excellent cross to the back post that was met by Andy Barcham and he was only denied by Pickford getting down low to his right to push the ball around the post.
Albion were close to an equaliser on 40 minutes after Phillips and McGurk swapped flanks. The former Tranmere man cut inside and with few options available set his sights on goal and only a faint deflection off a defender carried his shot over the crossbar for a Burton corner.
McGurk was also off target in the final minute of the half when the ball came to him quickly after more good interplay from Symes and Howe but snatching at his shot he was well over the crossbar with his effort.
Half time: Burton Albion 0-1 Portsmouth
For the second week in a row Albion had every right to feel aggrieved with the officials as Portsmouth doubled their lead on 51 minutes. There was no doubt that Damien McCrory had his heels clipped by Holmes as they chased back for the ball but referee Dean Whitestone played on allowing Holmes to drive in an angled shot that Pickford saved but unable to hang onto the ball it fell to Simon FERRY to gleefully knocked the ball into the net. Marcus Holness talked his way into the referee's book for his protests and as Albion's frustrations got the better of them Lee Bell also went into the book for a scything challenge on Wallace.
Albion made a double change just short of the hour mark with Rene Howe and Adam Reed the men to make way for the Alex MacDonald and Matty Palmer.
Palmer was unceremoniously brought down in the centre circle to earn Sonny Bradley a yellow card but it was still Portsmouth who looked more likely to add to their lead as the game wore on.
Michael Symes twice squandered decent chances as Albion struggled to create opportunities to test John Sullivan as he failed to steer a right foot shot on the target and then missing his kick as he tried to convert Zander Diamond's hopeful ball into the box.
Portsmouth were reduced to ten men on 84 minutes as French right back Yassin Moutaouakil needlessly kicked out at Jimmy Phillips who was already down on the ground and referee Whitestone had no hesitation in showing the red card.
Albion left it until the 89th minute to have their best effort and it came from a set piece. Palmer again was bundled over and Alex MacDonald took charge of the set piece and rattled the face of the crossbar. Zander Diamond, thrown forward as an extra attacker late on was only denied by a sprawling tackle from Ertl that won Albion a corner but Portsmouth were able to clear their lines effectively.
It was all too little too late when Albion finally found the back of the net in the fifth and final minute of added time. Michael Symes and Jimmy Phillips battled hard on the left to retain possession and when Phillips cross was headed down by substitute Dominic Knowles it was a straightforward finish for DIAMOND to steer the ball around Sullivan to deny him a clean sheet.
Burton Albion: Pickford, Edwards, Diamond, Bell (c), Howe, Reed, McCrory, Phillips, McGurk, Holness and Symes.
Subs: Lyness, Weir, MacDonald, Knowles, Dyer, Palmer and Slade