Mansfield Town earned a hard-fought draw with high-fliers Portsmouth in a 0-0 draw at Fratton Park this afternoon.
A competitive match from start to finish, neither side could prove clinical in the final third as the pair nullified each other in all key areas of the field.
Stags’ boss Adam Murray made two changes to the side that grabbed a dramatic late winner at Yeovil on Tuesday night. In came central midfielder Chris Clements for his first start since injuring his groin against Luton just over a month ago, along with returning captain Nicky Hunt who served his one-match suspension after receiving red card against Bristol Rovers last Saturday.
Mitch Rose was moved from right-back to his more familiar position in midfield, while Jamie McGuire and Jack Thomas took their place amongst the substitutes.
The hosts kicked-off this top-of-the-table clash in purposeful fashion as on-loan striker Caolan Lavery beat the offside trap before whipping in a dangerous cross, but the oncoming Kyle Bennett could only turn the ball over the bar from close range.
Left-back Enda Stevens registered the first, and what was to be the only, shot on target in the first-half after linking up well with wide-man Kal Naismith before drilling the ball straight into the chest of Stags’ goalkeeper Brian Jensen.
Mansfield immediately hit back through striker Matt Green who shrugged off his defender before making a bee-line for goal from the right-hand side, but his pull-back to Craig Westcarr was taken off the toe of the former Pompey forward as he was about to pull the trigger.
Portsmouth were enjoying the majority of possession during the opening stages of the match and looked particularly dangerous down the right-hand side. Full-back Ben Davies’ deliveries were a focal point of the home side’s attacks, with the ex-Derby man’s latest cross finding attacking midfielder Rommy Boco, but the Benin international deflected his effort well over the bar.
It took a bit of time but the Stags were really beginning to grow into the match around the half-hour mark as they pressured Pompey’s back-line with a number of high balls into the penalty area, which they continued until the interval as referee Kevin Wright brought the half to a close.
It was end-to-end stuff during the opening few minutes of the second half at Fratton Park as the two teams took it in turns to surge forward and then sink back to defend the counter-attack.
Portsmouth fans were about to leap to their feet after Stevens went through clear on goal after nipping between Hunt and Lee Collins, but the latter produced a breath-taking tackle on the edge of the six-yard box to deny the Irishman a huge opportunity to break the deadlock.
Just after the hour-mark, Murray opted to shake up his side by sending on winger Matty Blair in place of Westcarr. Stags had to weather a ten minute storm as the Hampshire club peppered ‘keeper Jensen’s box with corner after corner, which the visitors did well to continuously bat away.
With 20 minutes left on the clock, Pompey were awarded a free-kick in a tantalising area for Ben Davies to have a shot at goal. The ex-Derby man lined up the shot which dipped over the wall and headed towards the bottom left-hand corner, but fortunately for Jensen it dropped the other side of the post to give Stags a goal kick.
Nathan Thomas was the next Mansfield player to whip off his tracksuit and lace his boots as he came on for Matt Green, but moments after the change, Portsmouth substitute Conor Chaplin may struggle to come to terms with how his shot from six-yards didn’t end up in the net.
The Portsmouth youth product received the ball inside the area after good build up play by the hosts, but with both Jensen and a crowd of defenders pressuring the teenager, an outstretched leg forced his toe-poked strike an inch wide of the far post.
Murray rolled the dice for the final time as Adi Yussuf was introduced in place of Reggie Lambe with under five minutes remaining, but neither side could find the telling touch that would bring them all three points.
After the five minutes of additional time was up, the referee drew the game to a close on an afternoon that saw the Stags slip one place to fifth, but remain just two points off second having extended their unbeaten run on the road to four matches.
Portsmouth FC: Murphy, Davies, Burgess, Webster, Stevens, Hollands, Doyle, Boco (Atangana, 56), Bennett, Naismith (Chaplin, 57), Lavery (Tubbs, 78).
Substitutes not used: Bass, Clarke, Tollitt, McGurk.
Mansfield Town: Jensen, Hunt, Collins, Tafazolli, Adams, Rose, Chapman, Clements, Lambe (Yussuf, 86), Westcarr (Blair, 62), M. Green (N. Thomas, 79).
Substitutes not used: Shearer, Beardsley, J. Thomas, McGuire.
ATTENDANCE: 16,210 (389 away).