Reece James’ late goal sealed three points for Rovers at Fratton Park.
Rovers started the match brightly boasting the lion’s share of possession and early half-chances. Tenacity in the centre of the park and tireless running from a front three of Jon Taylor, Fejiri Okenabirhie and James put Rovers on the front foot from the start and they managed to carve out the best of the early opportunities.
Okenbirhie had the two best of these latching onto neat through-balls from Madger Gomes but Craig MacGillivray was quick off his line and smothered the danger on both occasions.
Rovers best chance of the opening 20 minutes fell to James in his more advanced role. Gomes was the one to pick him out with another ball through the ever-widening gaps in the Pompey defence. James almost connected too well lashing his left footed effort inches wide of the near post.
The hosts’ began to see a bit more of the ball as the half wore on and registered their first chance on target just before the half-hour mark. Jack Whatmough headed Lee Brown’s corner-kick on target and while the bounce could have been a bit awkward, Josef Bursik did what he needed to do to push it over his crossbar. Rovers cleared the resulting corner well as another masterclass performance from the Joe Wright and Tom Anderson partnership continued.
Anderson very nearly did his bit at the other end soon after. A free-kick – awarded after Marcus Harness rugby tackled Gomes to prevent him breaking onto the defence – was floated into the centre-back who had made a run at the back post. He guided the ball just wide.
At the other end, Portsmouth had begun to see a bit more of the ball in the final 10 minutes and upped the intensity in the final moments but while crosses from Callum Johnson and Brown carried a threat, Rovers dealt with everything that was thrown at them.
Portsmouth started the second half with the same ferocity that they had ended the first. A few good punches from Bursik, an important header from Wright and some acrobatic defending by Whiteman kept the score level in the opening minutes. Andy Cannon then fired over from the edge of the box and Ellis Harrsion headed narrowly wide from a cross.
Rovers got more of a grip on things after ten minutes and Okenabirhie continued his personal duel with MacGillivray forcing two more good stops from the Pompey shot-stopper as he went in search of his first league goal of the season.
The game exploded into life with Bursik making a save from Harness, and Cannon heading wide. Rovers went almost straight up the other end to win a free-kick in a dangerous position which James curled around the wall but comfortably into the keeper’s arms launching a break which almost saw former Rovers John Marquis net just minutes after coming on.
Reece James broke the deadlock with ten minutes remaining. Josh Sims made his presence felt against his parent club’s fierce rivals – first winning the ball back high up the pitch and then receiving a pass from Whiteman which allowed him to drive at the heart of the Portsmouth defence and drive a low ball across goals. A defender’s toe was enough to nudge the ball to James who was waiting at the top of the box. He swivelled and chipped the ball into the net.
James had a chance of a second minutes later. Pure tenacity saw him chase down a bouncing ball into the Portsmouth box but it wouldn’t quite sit for the man who would normally be at left-back and he sent it wide.
Marquis’ attempted cut-back took a deflection off Wright and required a smart save from Bursik in the final minutes and, despite being under the cosh in the closing stages, Rovers were able to see out the final minutes.