Pompey's hopes of automatic promotion were boosted yesterday courtesy of a well-earned 1-0 win over Carlisle United at Fratton Park.
Paul Cook named an unchanged side from the team that thrashed Notts County on Good Friday but they struggled to get going in the first half which contained a few "Quashie" moments from both sides as well as some questionable refereeing decisions.
Gary Roberts had a diving header blocked as the Cumbrians endeavoured to sling their bodies in the way of other dangerous looking balls being delivered into their box. They also wound the crowd up by taking their time over throw ins and goal kicks, as the Pompey fans have come to expect in League Two.
There was a major let off at for the hosts midway through the first half as an unmarked Mark Ellis could only volley the ball into the Fratton End at the far post when he should have scored.
The frustrating half ended with another couple of chances for Carlisle due to some shaky defending whilst Pompey also pressed for an opener at the other end but were often crowded out.
Thankfully, the frustration lifted early in the second half as Mark Gillespie could only parry Kyle Bennett's curling effort to the tireless Michael Smith who slotted in the rebound.
The game then proceeded to be dominated by Pompey who couldn't find a way past Gillespie who continued to look less than competent in the Carlisle goal with some poor kicking.
However, the last ten minutes (plus stoppage time) at Fratton Park were total chaos as Keith Curle threw on two strikers to try and rescue something from the game.
The Cumbrians left themselves open during an attack and Adam McGurk was unlucky to hit the post with his effort when one-on-one with the keeper and he then couldn't turn in a rebound from Smith's shot which would have sealed the victory.
There was a moment of horror soon after those wasted chances as Hallam Hope somehow couldn't convert Derek Asamoah's cross from a yard out as the ball drifted harmlessly wide instead.
The Pompey hearts were in the mouths again in stoppage time as some panic defending led to Jabo Ibhere hooking the ball over the bar as Carlisle were denied a second late equaliser against Portsmouth at the death this season with the final whistle blowing soon after.
The relief from the home fans soon turned to joy as results went in Pompey's favour yesterday. Bristol Rovers may have hammered Crawley as expected but Accrington could only draw at home to Cambridge and Plymouth succumbed to a late winner at Exeter.
That means that Paul Cook's men are five points behind those three teams with an all-important game in hand, too. The poor results from the chasing pack below Pompey also means that they are six points from eighth place having played a game less, also, so a play-off position at the very least can be expected come the final day of the league season.
As for the match yesterday, whilst it was a tense affair, Pompey certainly deserved to win due to their second half performance. But how different would the mood around Fratton Park have been had Carlisle had a player who knew how to score? Three huge let-offs meant that luck didn't desert Pompey for a change but the defending has to improve in the future.
Bennett may have won the sponsors' man-of-the-match award for his endeavour but there were more deserving candidates.
Smith scored the winning goal but his workrate was phenomenal and because of his frame and willingness to run he offered his team mates an "out" ball when Carlisle did press forward late on. He won a lot of his critics over yesterday, that's for sure.
Michael Doyle also had one of his best games in a Pompey shirt as he simply wouldn't stop harrassing the Carlisle midfielders whilst Enda Stevens again did his job at the back without any fuss and also supported the attack well. If there was ever a player to define the term "unsung hero" this season, it would be him.
The players got the job done in the end and that's all that matters at this stage of the season. Pompey's latest attempt to win three league games in a row will culminate at rock-bottom Dagenham next weekend and surely that duck will be broken this time!
Then it's the "big one" against Plymouth. Win that, and who knows what will happen at the end of the season?
Pompey Player Ratings
Paul Jones: 6 - Little to do but nice to see him retain his place ahead of Fulton.
Ben Davies: 6 - Caught out on a few occasions.
Christian Burgess: 7 - Won most of his challenges.
Matt Clarke: 6 - One or two nervy moments.
Enda Stevens: 8 - Another excellent performance.
Michael Doyle: 8 - Kept pressing.
Danny Hollands: 6 - Needs shooting practice.
Adam McGurk: 6 - Unlucky not to score?
Gary Roberts: 7 - Worked well with Bennett.
Kyle Bennett: 7 - Carlisle defence struggled to contain him.
Michael Smith: 8 - Overall team contribution was outstanding.
Kal Naismith (Roberts 86): N/A - Didn't see much of the ball.
Gareth Evans (Bennett 90): N/A - Switch ate a few precious seconds.
Marc McNulty (McGurk 89): N/A - No time to score this time.