BURTON Albion took a valuable point home with them from Fratton Park last night after a tough toe-to-toe scrap with Portsmouth.
The Brewers had to dig deep as a partisan crowd of almost 13,000 roared Pompey on – but Gary Rowett’s men passed the test of character with flying colours.
In a game of few chances, the lively Dominic Knowles came the closest for Albion in a tense first half, with the Brewers having their best spell in the 20 minutes before half-time.
Patrick Agyemang, a real colossus up front for Portsmouth, hit the inside of a post just after the break as Pompey piled the pressure on.
But Burton rode the storm and the crowd increasingly turned their attention to some unusual refereeing decisions from Surrey official Carl Berry.
Danger-man Ricky Holmes, so often a thorn in Albion’s side, threatened periodically down the left, but was well played by Phil Edwards and, later, David Gray.
Brewers boss Rowett would have hoped for three points to fire his side into the top three – but a draw at fast-improving Pompey is an excellent result, especially coming off the back of Saturday’s 2-1 win at Oxford, and with Rochdale losing at Torquay United.
It was not Albion’s best of the season, but they showed tremendous resolve to not buckle under pressure from the biggest crowd they have played in front of this season.
Rowett made two changes to the side which beat Oxford as Ian Sharps was replaced by Marcus Holness at centre-half after he limped off at the Kassam Stadium with a calf injury, while skipper Lee Bell came in for Matty Palmer in central midfield.
Nine minutes in a Wes Fogden cross got through to Rob Lainton in a crowded area before the Brewers broke and Jimmy Phillips beat Joe Devera and Bondz N’Gala before angling a low shot which Trevor Carson gathered at the second attempt.
On 13 minutes, Holmes turned into space outside the area but fired a shot well wide.
Soon afterwards, he pulled the ball across the face of goal agonisingly ahead of Agyemang and Ryan Taylor after Bell, who led the side superbly, had been caught in possession.
Albion then settled and had a good spell of possession and territory.
Edwards hit a left-footed cross which Knowles, peeling off the back of his marker, could only head wide from six yards beyond the back post. It was a difficult chance.
Zeli Ismail and Damien McCrory both had long-range efforts which came to nothing before on the half-hour Knowles, who had been bright, caught Nicky Shorey napping just inside the area and hit a stinging, angled shot which Carson did well to push away.
Seconds later, Billy Kee fired over from a good position just inside the area after Holness found Ismail with an accurate long pass.
On 32 minutes, Knowles had the best chance of the half as he surged between N’Gala and Ben Chorley onto an Ismail pass, but his shot from just inside the area flew inches wide with Carson beaten.
Pompey were a coat of paint away from taking the lead on 51 minutes as Agyemang’s shot came back off the inside of Lainton’s left post and rolled across the line.
Albion were furious, though, as Shane Cansdell-Sherriff was prone with a head injury in the D and Mr Berry did not stop play.
Holmes then pulled a shot wide after McCrory was caught out upfield by Toumani Diagouraga and Portsmouth broke through Fogden.
Pompey were pouring forward at every opportunity and only a couple of brave headers from Edwards and Cansdell-Sherriff denied the hosts around the hour mark.
Rowett threw Adam McGurk and Alex MacDonald on soon after to freshen Albion up, with Knowles and a tired looking Phillips making way.
Soon after, Ismail’s goalbound rocket after a MacDonald corner was deflected just wide by a Pompey leg in a crowded box.
McGurk had the ball in the net on 72 minutes from a Cansdell-Sherriff knockdown and Kee pass but the flag was already up for offside as he finished from close range.
MacDonald picked up a yellow card on 77 minutes for a foul on Sonny Bradley – with the big defender going down in a heap under a nothing challenge, feigning injury and then leaping to his feet when he thought a booking was not on the way.
MacDonald almost set up a late winner for Edwards from a corner but the defender could not keep his header down.
There was some late pressure from Portsmouth, but Albion stayed solid to take what could prove a vital point in their promotion chase.