DONCASTER Rovers could fail to improve upon their previous season’s league record for only the second time since they returned to the Football League in the 2003-04 season.
Rovers dropped down to 16th place in the Championship table - equalling their lowest of the season - following their third defeat in four games .
Although they still have 17 games in which to turn things around, there won’t have been many supporters, if any, at the Keepmoat Stadium on Saturday who will have had a flutter on them bettering last season’s 12th-place finish in the last 36 hours.
Rovers have punched above their weight in their first two two and a half seasons in the Championship.
But since the turn of the year some of the power seems to have gone out of their performances - though they have been badly affected by injuries - and they have lost five of their eight league games as well as crashing out of the FA Cup.
Much has been made of the club’s defensive problems in recent weeks, but the fact that Rovers have scored only one goal in their last four games will also be of concern to the Rovers management.
Their cause wasn’t helped on Saturday when leading scorer Billy Sharp received an off-the-ball elbow to the ribs, which none of the officials spotted, early in the game.
Sharp played in pain for the rest of the game.
Much of the first half reflected the fact that both teams were struggling for form and play was often scrappy.
The first chance of the game fell to Pompey stand-in skipper Liam Lawrence, whose 12th-minute shot was blocked by young keeper Gary Woods.
James Coppinger, who got better the longer the half went on, shot just wide from 20 yards out three minutes later.
Coppinger produced excellent footwork later in the half when going past a couple of defenders in the box only to see his shot blocked for a corner by the keeper.
It came slightly against the run of play when Portsmouth took the lead on 42 minutes.
A shot from the edge of the area by Wolves loan centre-back Greg Halford, which appeared to take a deflection, came back off the post and striker Dave Kitson bravely flung himself at the loose ball to head it home.
The former Premier League striker, who loosened a tooth and picked up a cut lip for his efforts, admitted he didn’t know that he had scored until being mobbed by teammates.
“I remember seeing the ball hit the post at an angle that meant it was going to come back into the middle of the goal,” he said. “I just thought that if I could get my head on it would go in because it was an empty goal.
Added Kitson, who hadn’t scored for two months: “I don’t think that there would be too many people who would say that we didn’t deserve it. We were strong and we took the chances that came our way.”
Rovers looked to be up for the challenge at the start of the second half but they failed to turn pressure into goals and fell further behind on 52 minutes
David Nugent got his head to Ashdown’s long kick and Joel Ward beat Matt Kilgallon to the ball and lobbed Woods, who had come to the edge of the six-yard box.
Rovers had seen their 2-0 lead cancelled out in the game at Fratton Park before David Healy snatched the winner, but they never seriously looked like getting back on level terms, with Halford and Rocha dominant at the heart of the Portsmouth defence.
Rovers started to look more of a threat following the introduction of Spurs loanee Ryan Mason and Dean Shiels.
Mason, in particular, made an impact, and the power of his angled 20-yarder late in the game almost surprised Ashdown.
It proved a disappointing afternoon for Rovers skipper Brian Stock, playing his first game since signing a new contract in midweek.
Said Stock: “They were a big physical side but we knew that before the game so we were prepared for that. At the end of the day we just weren’t good enough.
“They probably came with a plan to try and stop us playing, but we didn’t help ourselves. We weren’t good enough on the ball; we gave away too much possession.
“We huffed and puffed but we just weren’t good enough on the day.
“Other teams may have a different mentality, but we go into every game looking to try and win and we are going to need three points on Tuesday against Ipswich, To do that we are going to have to react in a positive manner.
“There might be a bit of a lack of confidence. We are renowned in this league for our passing football and we are not really doing it at the moment.But we will be trying our best to try to put things right.”