Plymouth Argyle beat Portsmouth after Ryan Hardie’s 18th goal of the season

Plymouth Argyle beat Portsmouth for the first time in 10 attempts as they moved up to fifth place in League One with a tense 1-0 victory in front of more than 15,000 fans at a raucous Home Park.

Top scorer Ryan Hardie grabbed his 18th goal of the season as the Pilgrims made it four consecutive wins and clean sheets to maintain their thrilling play-off push.

Hardie struck in the 65th minute of a predictably close contest between these two old rivals to put the Pilgrims in the driving seat.

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However, Portsmouth were not about to make it easy for them as they applied lots of late pressure, including a succession of corners.

Referee Sam Purkiss also played close to an extra eight minutes at the end of the match amid a cacophony of whistles from the Green Army before he finally brought the breathless action to a halt

After seven draws and two defeats in their previous nine meetings against Portsmouth, the Pilgrims had beaten them for the first time since their 1-0 triumph in the League Two play-off semi-final second leg at Home Park in May 20-16.

For this latest clash Steven Sessegnon made his first start for Argyle at left wing-back in the absence of the injured Conor Grant from the matchday squad.

The England under-21 international had made three previous substitute appearances for the Pilgrims after his loan signing from Fulham on transfer deadline day at the end of January.

There were two other changes to Argyle’s side from the 1-0 win away to Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

Midfielder Panutche Camara and striker Luke Jephcott were selected instead of Ryan Broom and Niall Ennis, who were both on the bench.

Argyle’s defensive trio included James Bolton, who was signed from Portsmouth last summer and had put in some fine recent performances for the Pilgrims.

In front of a packed, noisy Home Park crowd, it was Argyle who had the first chance of the contest.

Danny Mayor and Camara combined to set up skipper Joe Edwards for a shot inside the Portsmouth box but he completely mis-kicked his attempt and the ball rolled harmlessly out of play.

Portsmouth had their first opportunity when they were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out from goal after a foul by Camara on Hirst.

The set piece was taken by Ronan Curtis, whose strike did not trouble Argyle ‘keeper Mike Cooper as it went well wide.

Sessegnon made a good surging run into the Pompey penalty area after a patient passing move from the home side but his shot deflected off Wales international midfielder Joe Morrell for a corner.

Argyle created an even better chance in the 14th minute after Mayor and Hardie through the centre of the pitch.

Hardie played the ball outside to Jephcott, whose low drive was pushed out in front of him by goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu and he was able to dive on the ball before anyone could get to it before him.

Argyle threatened again in the 27th minute as Mayor hit an inviting cross into the Portsmouth box and the ball skimmed off the head of Hardie and went wide of the far post.

Argyle midfielder Jordan Houghton races away from Portsmouth's Aiden O'Brien during the League One game at Home Park on Tuesday, March 15, 2022 - Photo: Dave Rowntree/PPAUK
Argyle midfielder Jordan Houghton races away from Portsmouth’s Aiden O’Brien during the League One game at Home Park on Tuesday, March 15, 2022 – Photo: Dave Rowntree/PPAUK
(Image: Dave Rowntree/PPAUK)

Edwards was right behind Hardie and would have been hoping to get on the end of Mayor’s cross himself as he was well positioned to score.

Bazunu spilled another Argyle shot on the half hour mark, this time from Mayor, but again was able to grab the loose ball.

Mayor was behind all of the Pilgrims’ attacking play as he and Camara played with tremendous energy and skill.

Sessegnon was booked by Purkiss in the 43rd minute for sliding in on Mahlon Romeo as both chased after a ball played deep into Portsmouth territory.

It remained an even goal-less game until half-time with Argyle having the only two on-target shots from Edwards and Mayor.

Jephcott worked an opening early in the second period but his strike from the edge of the penalty area was partly blocked by Morrell and the ball rolled through to Bazunu.

Both teams were guilty of giving the ball away cheaply as the game became scrappy and without any clear-cut chances.

A cross from the left by Macaulay Gillesphey led to Jephcott having a couple of shots charged down, first by Portsmouth captain Sean Raggett and then Hayden Carter.

The visitors then had good appeals for a penalty in the 57th minute when Argyle ‘keeper Mike Cooper took a heavy touch after a back pass was played to him.

Cooper tried to make a belated clearance and there appeared to be contact between him and Pompey striker Geoirge Hirst before he did so, but Purkiss took no action.

Portsmouth boss Danny Cowley remonstrated with fourth official Daniel Flynn about the incident as the game continued.

Argyle then had a good spell of pressure with Edwards having a couple of shots blocked while Hardie hooked the ball straight at Bazunu after a cut back from Gillesphey.

The Pilgrims made the breakthrough in the 65th minute when Jordan Houghton did superbly to win the ball off Portsmouth’s Louis Thompson.

Camara then strode forward and then unselfishly squared the ball inside to Hardie who slotted low past Bazunu.

Cowley responded by making a double substitution soon afterwards as Ryan Tunnicliffe and Tyler Walker replaced Thompson and O’Brien.

Defender Clark Ronbertson had already replaced Denver Hume for the visitors a short while earlier.

Argyle’s first substitution saw Jephcott make way for Jordon Garrick in the 75th minute before Bazunu fumbled a Camara strike from distance and Carter had to clear the ball before Garrick could pounce.

Then, at the other end of the pitch, Curtis had a good shooting chance inside the Pilgrims’ box but could not curl the ball inside Cooper’s far post as it flew wide.

Hirst then headed off target when he was picked out by a cross from Conor Ogilvie, with the Portsmouth striker put off by the challenge on him from Gillesphey.

Sessegnon’s full debut came to an end in the 86th minute when he was replaced by Ryan Law.

The Fulham loanee had put in a good shift but must have been tiring after playing so little football since joining the Pilgrims.

There were loud groans from the Green Army when it was indicated that six minutes of added on time would be played at the end of the match.

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Portsmouth forced a couple of corners in quick succession and following the second one Curtis scuffed a shot wide of the near post.

Midfielder Adam Randell was a late substitute for Hardie as Argyle clung desperately to their lead and defended in depth.

Cooper was yellow-carded by Purkiss for kicking the ball away at the award of a corner but after nearly eight agonising minutes of extra time the final whistle went and the Pilgrims had a vital victory.

Not only did it enhance their play-off prospects but it was a damaging blow to the hopes of Portsmouth too.

ARGYLE: Mike Cooper; James Wilson, James Bolton, Macaulay Gillesphey; Jordan Houghton; Joe Edwards, Panutche Camara, Danny Mayor, Steven Sessegnon (Ryan Law 86 mins); Luke Jephcott (Jordon Garriuck 75 mins), Ryan Hardie (Adam Randell 90 +4 mins).

Substitutes: Callum Burton, Ryan Broom, Niall Ennis, Romoney Crichlow.

PORTSMOUTH: Gavin Bazunu; Hayden Carter, Sean Raggett, Conor Ogilvie; Mahlon Romeo, Louis Thompson (Ryan Tunnicliffe 70 mins), Joe Morrell, Denver Hume (Clark Robertson 63 mins); Aiden O’Brien (Tyler Walker 70 mins); Ronan Curtis, George Hirst.

Substitutes: Ollie Webber, Liam Vincent, Jay Mingi, Harry Jewitt-White.

REFEREE: Sam Purkiss

ATTENDANCE: 15,604 (1,381)

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