Smith's strike keeps Rangers' record running

Portsmouth 1 Queen's Park Rangers 1
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The Independent Football

Another draw, their fifth in six matches, but it felt like a victory for Queen's Park Rangers last night. Their long unbeaten start to the season looked to be coming to an end amid controversy at Fratton Park after Portsmouth's Liam Lawrence was allowed two attempts to convert a penalty 19 minutes from time. With Matt Connolly dismissed for hauling down Dave Kitson in the run-up to the penalty Rangers' prospects looked bleak but, in the 90th minute, they levelled from a contested penalty of their own.

This was awarded after Lawrence was harshly adjudged to have handled Tommy Smith's cross. After Lawrence was sent off, having received a second yellow card for dissent, Smith, against the club he is on loan to Rangers from, scored to extend their unbeaten start to 16 matches. Both decisions, incidentally, were given by Ward on the advice of his assistants.

Steve Cotterill, Portsmouth's manager, said: "The game was too big for the officials. It was a big game in front of a big crowd. Liam has a ball-mark on his rib-cage, a whole ball-mark. It is still red. The only thing missing is Mitre written on him. Maybe because of the furore with the retake he has evened it up that end."

QPR's Neil Warnock brought his performance analyst assistant Andy Belk in with him to the press conference to provide a still shot of the match DVD which showed Kenny's feet clearly on the line as Lawrence took his kick. He said: "It was a fantastic save so I'm disappointed with the decision, but you don't normally get a penalty like the one we got away from home, so you could say justice was served in the end."

Neither side created enough chances to claim they were robbed even if both might feel that way. Rangers now have eight points from six games and next face a difficult trip to Nottingham Forest at the weekend. Portsmouth remain two points off the play-off places, a fine achievement given their terrible start, but hardly surprising given the talent in their starting XI.

Portsmouth's ability to commit themselves to the salaries of Liam Lawrence and Dave Kitson earlier this season, while in administration and reneging on debts to such organisations as St John's Ambulance and local schools, is one of the enduring mysteries of the Championship.

Another is the age of Portsmouth striker Kanu, which is officially listed at 34 years. Last night, in the continuing absence of David Nugent, he was pressed into service for his first start since September as Steve Cotterill reshuffled following the defeat at Derby which ended a run of 19 points from 21.

Portsmouth looked better balanced than at Pride Park but if they denied Rangers many openings they also created little. The best effort of the opening half came from distance, John Utaka rapping the QPR bar after 31 minutes. QPR did not worry Jamie Ashdown until early in the second period when Kasper Gorkss's powerful header forced him into a full-stretch save. An Ashdown error then almost gifted Rob Hulse his first Rangers' goal.

A scoreless draw loomed, then Kanu rolled back the years to release Kitson who was tugged down by Connolly. Paddy Kenny made a superb save from Lawrence's first spot-kick but was sent the wrong way from the second.

Then came the twist in the tale as Smith's cross struck Lawrence just below an extended arm. The referee's assistant indicated handball, Lawrence received a second yellow card and departed. Smith, against his former club, needed only one attempt to dispatch the penalty.

Portsmouth (4-4-1-1): Ashdown; Halford (Ward, 26), Sonko, Mokoena, Dickinson; Lawrence, Brown, Mullins, Utaka (Ciftci, 86); Kanu (Hreidarsson, 90); Kitson. Substitutes not used Flahavan (gk), Hughes, Rocha.

QPR (4-2-3-1): Kenny; Hill, Connolly, Gorkss, Walker; Derry (Clarke, 80), Faurlin; Taarabt (Borrowdale 72), Mackie, Hulse (Agyemang, 72); Smith. Substitutes not used Cerny (gk), Rowlands, Ephraim, Andrade.

Referee G Ward (Kent).