FORMER Clarets boss Steve Cotterill denied Burnley the win they craved to boost their play-off ambitions yesterday afternoon.
They started the day eighth, level on points with Nottingham Forest and Leeds United in the race for sixth place.
But a goal completely against the run of play from former loan striker David Nugent just before the hour gave Portsmouth something to hang on to, and while Chris Eagles equalised with his 15th of the season, Burnley took a hit as Forest were busy winning at Bristol City – although Leeds went down at Crystal Palace.
The day started in celebratory fashion as Graham Alexander’s wonderful achievement of passing 1,000 senior career games was marked with a day in his honour, and both sides formed a guard of honour ahead of the game, before he received a trophy from club chairman Barry Kilby.
And the first half was dominated by the Clarets against an obdurate Portsmouth, who arrived with little to play for, and two holding midfielders.
Although playing initially without the zip of the last two games – understandable after only a day’s rest – Burnley steadilly gained the upper hand and created more and better chances in the opening 45 minutes.
The first came on the break, as Portsmouth committed men forward, and Eagles fed Wade Elliott, whose cross was headed just over by Jay Rodriguez.
Moments later Eagles, prompting Burnley’s best moments, sent an audacious volley over after Chris Iwelumo chested down Michael Duff’s pass.
Elliott, with two goals in his last two games, then headed at full stetch at Jamie Ashdown from Jack Cork’s centre.
The Clarets continued to have the upper hand, and Chris McCann – called on to play a second game in three days after a 15-month absence, purposefully drove forward before his right-foot drive was parried by Ashdown, who saved Danny Fox’s follow-up at the second attempt.
Portsmouth, looking for a first win in six games, offered little threat at the other end, as a run of two goals in seven outings suggested going into the match.
Just before the break, McCann, after his goal at Derby on Saturday, came close to scoring again as he lifted the ball over Ritchie De Laet, but dragged his volley wide of the far post.
There was a big shout for a penalty for handball right on half-time as Eagles rose to head the ball on, but erratic referee Carl Boyeson pointed to the top of his arm and blew for time.
Just after the restart, Iwelumo shrugged off the attentions of Hermann Hreidarsson to get into the box and get onto Elliott’s cross, but he couldn’t get over the ball and headed over.
Burnley continued to force the issue in the second half, against an unadventurous side displaying all the defensive organisation typical of a Cotterill team, but struggled to break down the visitors, who took every opportunity to slow the game down, with Hreidarsson spoken to at length, before Ashdown was booked for timewasting.
But then, out of the blue, Kanu rolled the ball across the edge of the box for Nugent, who found the top corner with a stunning strike – and the former Preston North End frontman showed his respect for the club where he plied his trade on loan in the Premier League last season by refusing to celebrate.
Aston Villa loanee Nathan Delfouneso came on for McCann on the hour to add a forward option, and Burnley had chances to level when Rodriguez played in Elliott, whose shot was parried by Ashdown, and moments later Iwelumo headed at the keeper from Eagles cross from six yards.
As Pompey continued to frustrate the Clarets, Iceland international Hreidarsson was booked for an awful challenge on Mears, and Clarets boss Eddie Howe introduced Steven Thompson for Iwelumo midway through the half.
And with 16 minutes to go, Eagles released Mears down the right and took the return pass, side-footing into the top corner with his left foot for his 15th goal of the season.
Moments later, Delfouneso shot at Ashdown after breaking down the left, as Burnley penned Pompey in, and Rodriguez headed over Eagles’ cross.
Jensen came to Burnley’s aid to save a one-on-one with Nugent with four minutes left, as Burnley pushed on, and as Portsmouth tried to kill the game, David Cotterill was booked for kicking the ball away.
In injury time, Pompey’s Greg Halford headed substitute Ross Wallace’s cross away from Rodriguez from under the bar, and a winner proved elusive for the Clarets, who now lie two points behind Forest in sixth, with two games to play.
It’s now 27 games since Burnley were in a play-off place, after beating Watford on November 13th, but it is all about who is in the top six after 46 games, and the Clarets remain right in the hunt.