Gary Roberts’ penalty earns Pompey a draw in play-off thriller
Gary Roberts’ penalty made sure Portsmouth travel to Plymouth on level terms as they drew 2-2 in a ding-dong battle in the first leg of the Sky Bet League Two play-off clash at Fratton Park.
Jamille Matt had scored twice to put the visitors in control, cancelling out Marc McNulty’s opener with a header before putting the Greens in front with a neatly-taken overhead kick.
But Roberts netted a 51st-minute spot-kick after McNulty had been fouled.
Portsmouth had only taken part in one play-off game before, against Leicester in 1993, and were forced to solve a goalkeeping crisis by signing Bournemouth’s Ryan Allsop hours before kick-off.
Allsop was one of seven changes from the weekend’s defeat to Northampton, while Argyle made six of their own.
McNulty opened the scoring in the third minute, slotting into the bottom corner after skipper Michael Doyle had stolen possession from Plymouth captain Curtis Nelson.
The Scottish striker calmly placed the ball past an unmoved Luke McCormick for his 13th goal since joining on loan from Sheffield United in November.
The lead lasted just six frantic minutes before Allsop had a howler to gift Matt a headed equaliser. Graham Carey’s diagonal cross was nodded back across the six-yard box by Gregg Wylde, Allsop flapped and Matt capitalised.
Then came the biggest flashpoint of the evening as Matt appeared to bump heads with Doyle. No action was taken against the two players, but Portsmouth boss Paul Cook and Plymouth assistant Paul Wootton had to be separated.
Referee Oliver Langford decided to send the pair to the stands, with Wootton already an unpopular man in the blue side of Hampshire having played for Southampton.
Argyle went ahead for the first time in the 18th minute when Matt produced a spectacular volley which looped over the keeper.
Forward Carey almost caught Allsop miles off his line with an audacious 35-yard effort but the strike drifted narrowly wide.
Pompey had a sold out Fratton Park on its feet again when Roberts strode through and laid the ball off to McNulty, who dragged his strike just past the post.
The hosts came even closer after 38 minutes as Ben Davies’ tackle-turned-shot fell to Kyle Bennett but the winger thrashed a shot against the left-hand upright.
At the other end, Carey, a constant thorn in Pompey’s side, curled a free-kick into the side-netting.
The hosts regained parity from the penalty spot after a full-pelt McNulty was hauled down by defender Peter Hartley.
Roberts, who has been involved with either the play-offs or a promotion for the last seven years, stepped up and smashed the ball into the top-left corner.
Livewire McNulty forced McCormick into a smart save when he got in behind, his fierce shot heading for the corner of the net.
Davies nearly grabbed a late winner but could not beat the keeper at his near post, before Gareth Evans attempted an overhead kick of his own.
The two sides will meet again on Sunday in the second leg for a place at Wembley.