COVENTRY City boosted their automatic promotion credentials by edging past rivals Portsmouth in a tense and tactical game with a high-quality late Matty Godden goal.
Sub Godden, injured of late after recently failing to find his double-hattrick new year form, showed a top class striker’s twisting first-touch finish from over his shoulder from a looping high through-ball from the industrious O’Hare.
It settled an even game in which both sides had periods of dominance, notably Pompey for half an hour in the second half – after nine straight wins before last night’s St Andrew’s defeat.
Some of that upper hand they gained from disruptive tactics in midfield where the first half confirmed expectations that City had creative superiority.
Referee Scott Oldham had been slow to act on a series of fouls by the away side who committed 15 to the Sky Blues’ one. That reflected an apparent determination by City not to concede free-kicks in dangerous areas, given Pompey’s tendency to score goals from set pieces.
Kenny Jackett’s men were predictably set up with a back four and two in front to soak up pressure and break down the flanks, with three attacking players behind striker Marquis. They included the prolific goalscorer and creator Ronan Curtis, who City managed to keep unusually quiet.
It was an exceptional defensive and tactical performance by City who were always unlikely to be allowed to be at their creative best against the organised, athletic and physical visitors seeking to leapfrog the Sky Blues in the league.
As it happened, Coventry moved into third, just two points off leader Rotherham with a game in hand, and one point off Peterborough in second place, with three games in hand on them.
On a cold Birmingham night, Pompey failed to threaten the goal in the first half in which City had the majority of possession in their opponent’s half.
Typically of late, the creative midfielders Allen and O’Hare – head still bandaged after a horror clash on Saturday – linked well with each other, Walsh and the marauding right wing-back Dabo.
Walsh had a low shot from outside the box saved on five minutes, and O’Hare shot from a similar range on-target after 29 minutes.
Marosi, who went on to have a starring role in the hard-fought victory, at times looked vulnerable when playing out with Pompey’s high press on. On 34 minutes, he was nearly caught in the box by former Doncaster goalscorer Marquis.
On 42 minutes, Allen tried looping and curling a strike from outside the box into the top right corner but it was just over.
Portsmouth opened the second half with more attacking purpose and on 51 minutes, dominant central defender McFadzean charged down McGeehan’s strike.
Two minutes later, Allen fired wide after a one-two with the hard-working lone striker Bakayoko. Then Bakayoko headed wide from a characteristically powerful Dabo cross which was slightly too high for him.
On 62 minutes a double substitution gained Portsmouth extra ascendancy with Anderson having a volley saved from a Bolton cross on his first touch of the game. It was an excellent point blank stop from Marosi.
It was also the closest Pompey came to scoring with the exception of a last-minute chance for the same player, who got inbetween the central defenders from a headed knock down but lifted the ball over the bar from close range.
Portsmouth were by now controlling possession in midfield and forced several corners, dealt with well by the back three including Michael Rose and Dominic Hyam.
Mark Robins’ response on 69 minutes was to take off Allen, who appeared to be flagging amid a busy schedule, in favour of an additional striker, Max Biamou.
That appeared to have no impact on the pattern of the game until Godden was brought on for Bakayoko and took up positions on the right and centrally.
After Godden’s late wonder strike – taken early as the ball dropped, his right foot contacting the ball at shoulder height – he had one more chance but fired over.
Manager Mark Robins said he was proud of the players for a hard-fought victory capped by a “brilliant” goal.