Portsmouth's undefeated start to the league season came to an end tonight thanks to a 2-1 defeat to Exeter at Fratton Park.
Paul Cook's men started the game well and should have been a couple of goals up early on. Gareth Evans had an attempt saved and another blocked whilst Jayden Stockley headed Ben Davies' cross wide.
Pompey completely dominated possession and there looked like there would be no threat from the visitors until they were gifted the lead in the 20th minute.
Danny Hollands dallied on the ball and was robbed by David Wheeler who slammed a shot into the far corner to give the Grecians the lead well against the run of play.
Exeter then defended manfully to head dangerous balls out of the box and keep Stockley well marshalled as the first half drew to a close.
The second half began with Pompey on the attack as both Kyle Bennett and Evans came close after some good attacking play but it was then that the home fans began to feel that it might be one of those nights.
Those feelings deepened soon after as Exeter doubled their lead thanks to a swift counter-attack which saw Aaron McCarey parry Lee Holmes' cross into the air for Arron Davies to head the loose ball home from close range. Fans were complaining that there looked to be a clear foul before the attack and there might have been an offside flag raised too, but the cries were ignored by referee Nicholas Kinsley.
To their credit, Pompey kept going but the Blues fans knew it wasn't going to be their days when good attacking moves weren't being finished off or some resolute defending from Paul Tisdale's men saw dangerous crosses being dealt with or the ball being cleared off the line. Matt Tubbs was also guilty of missing a sitter by his standards late on so the writing was on the wall.
And when the goal did come the three minutes alotted stoppage time was already up. At last Gary Roberts' deflected equaliser meant that Pompey's goal difference had only been dented by one goal rather than two.
On another night Pompey would have won that game comfortably had they taken their chances as Exeter barely offered anything going forward and yet were clinical enough to pounce on the mistakes made by Paul Cook's men. They also were prepared to put their bodies on the line and win their fair share of challenges and so they deserve some credit and Pompey fans can at least take solace in the fact their team lost to a good side who play football in the right way tonight.
There shouldn't be too much criticism aimed at Pompey after tonight's defeat as theyll play worse and win this season and the players cannot be faulted for their effort. However, Cook may come under scrutiny for not placing a more physical midfield pairing of Michael Doyle and Nigel Atangana in the centre of the park against a ball-playing team like Exeter as Hollands was poor and Adam Barton isn't the type of player to get stuck in.
In his defence he'll say that he won't change a winning side but now his team has been beaten you would expect some alterations to the starting eleven when Yeovil come to town on Saturday. Roberts is bound to start as will Doyle and possibly Atangana too.
That match against the struggling Glovers is the perfect opportunity to bounce back from this little setback so let's not worry after just a single, narrow defeat, shall we?
Pompey Player Ratings
Aaron McCarey: 5 - If we're being harsh then he may have done better with both goals. Maybe.
Ben Davies: 6 - Supported the attack well.
Christian Burgess: 6 - Dependable as always.
Matt Clarke: 5 - Starting to flounder a bit after a solid start to his loan spell. Made a couple of poor decisions tonight.
Enda Stevens: 6 - Can't be faulted for effort.
Danny Hollands: 5 - Fatal mistake.
Adam Barton: 5 - Too lightweight.
Gareth Evans: 5 - Wasteful again.
Conor Chaplin: 5 - Not very influential.
Kyle Bennett: 7 - Pompey's biggest threat and starting to rediscover his form.
Jayden Stockley: 6 - Worked hard but was well shackled by Exeter centre backs.
Michael Doyle (Hollands 81): N/A - In hindsight he should have started.
Gary Roberts (Evans 66): 6 - Added some extra cutting edge but ultimately not as influential as he can be.
Matt Tubbs (Chaplin 55): 6 - Did all he could but just not his night.