BURTON Albion suffered back-to-back home defeats in League Two for the first time in almost a year-and-a-half on Saturday.
Not since April, 2012, have the Brewers lost two on the spin at home – but a flat performance against Portsmouth on Saturday saw them go down 2-1 to follow the 2-0 defeat to Oxford United a week previously.
Gary Rowett’s promotion hopefuls were short on ideas and cutting edge, falling a goal behind to Ricky Holmes in the first half.
It could have been worse without several excellent saves from Jordan Pickford, back on loan from Sunderland after a knee injury.
There was a touch of controversy about the second goal, with Holmes appearing to foul Damien McCrory in the build-up to Simon Ferry netting.
Zander Diamond, in his first appearance of the season, hit an injury-time consolation – but Burton had been well beaten by then, with Pompey holding out for the last five minutes after a red card for Yassin Moutaouakil.
Rowett was unhappy with the manner of Portsmouth’s second, especially a week after a harsh red card for Ian Sharps consigned Albion to defeat.
But he was more concerned about the level of his side’s performance than that of referee Dean Whitestone.
Last season, the Brewers were stunning at home and ended with the best record on their own patch in the Football League.
But this time around, it has been an uncertain Albion who have won one, drawn one and lost two at the Pirelli in the league.
They lack the all-action, confident way they were taking teams apart at home last season.
Perhaps with the amount of new players being bedded in, it should have been expected – but Rowett needs more hard work and better use of the ball if the Pirelli is to once again be a fortress.
It is early days, though, and back-to-back defeats is not the end of the world.
What Albion need to do is ensure they do not embark on a long winless run, something they managed to avoid last season.
On Saturday, Rowett made four changes following the defeat to Oxford.
Pickford replaced Dean Lyness in goal, while Rory Delap (hip), Chris Hussey (hamstring) and Sharps (suspended) were missing, along with Billy Kee, who is still recovering from a torn thigh.
So, Phil Edwards came in for Delap at right-back, Jimmy Phillips replaced Hussey on the left wing for his first start of the season and Diamond came in for Sharps at centre-half.
Alex MacDonald started on the bench after a calf problem and Liam Slade, a promising young defender, was named as a substitute in League Two for the first time.
Portsmouth, meanwhile, were missing the suspended David Connolly, although striker Tom Craddock was back on the bench after a hamstring problem.
Pompey were forced into an early change as Joe Devera limped off and was replaced by Bondz N’Gala.
But a minute later Patrick Agyemang – outstanding throughout up front for the visitors – backheeled to Jed Wallace and he blazed a shot at goal which Pickford did well to push away.
The Brewers tried to hit back on 19 minutes, with Michael Symes – who used the ball better than most – finding Rene Howe with a flick. He turned N’Gala but fired over.
Adam Reed, who again got the nod over Robbie Weir in central midfield, took a ball from Howe on 23 minutes but placed it well wide of the right post.
Just after the half-hour, Portsmouth had the lead – and Burton only had themselves to blame.
McCrory was caught in possession by Wallace near halfway and he charged down the right before crossing to the back post. Agyemang thundered a header which Pickford did superbly to save, but the rebound fell to Holmes, who stabbed it in before Albion could react.
Two minutes later it could have been 2-0 to the visitors. Andy Barcham crashed a header at goal from Moutaouakil’s cross but Pickford threw himself to his left to save.
Adam McGurk, who was on the fringes of the game, cut in from the right and flashed a shot just over via a deflection, with Reed and McGurk again trying their luck from distance as the break loomed.
The second half was only six minutes old when Pompey effectively won it with their second goal.
McCrory seemed to be tripped by Holmes – there was a suggestion from some that he may have looked for the foul – but the referee waved play on and the tricky winger, who once grabbed a hat-trick against the Brewers for Barnet, was away.
He hit a cross-shot which Pickford could only parry and, again, Portsmouth reacted quicker, Ferry finishing into an unguarded net.
Rowett brought on MacDonald for a frustrated Howe, while Matty Palmer replaced Reed.
But still Albion could not quite get going.
Pompey were cruising but then Moutaouakil, who had looked excellent at right-back, saw fit to kick a prone Phillips and was given a straight red card. It really was an act of gross stupidity, right in front of the referee.
The Brewers pressed the 10 men for the final five minutes, with MacDonald hammering a superb 30-yard free kick off the bar following a foul on Palmer.
Diamond, who had moved up front, was denied a certain goal by a terrific tackle from Johnny Ertl on 90 minutes.
He was not to be denied for long, though, neatly finishing substitute Dominic Knowles’ knock-down from Phillips’ tidy cross from the left.
There was no time to go looking for another, though, and Burton were left wondering where their previous home domination has gone.