Match Report: Portsmouth 1-1 Southampton (Portsmouth Fan's View).
Emsworth-born Ward has been ever-present for his boyhood club since their relegation from the Premier League, so it was fitting that he would score such an important goal, in arguably the club's biggest home match of the 2011/12 season.
There was a fiery atmosphere in the stands before the match, synonymous with any meeting between the two sides. Portsmouth were looking to build on their impressive form under new manager Michael Appleton.
However, Southampton had their own agenda; looking to retain their position at the top of the Npower Championship table and end a 35-year run without a win at Fratton Park. The last time the two sides met here, Portsmouth ran out 4-1 winners, thanks to a double from Lomana LuaLua, in a match that aided Southampton's relegation from the top flight in 2005.
The game started brightly, with both sides having chances to take an early lead. Portsmouth's first attack saw a Joel Ward header neatly saved by Southampton stopper Kelvin Davis, while the visitor's best chance came from a free-kick from Rickie Lambert, easily held by Stephen Henderson.
David Norris has been one of Portsmouth's main sources of creativity this season, scoring the winner against Burnley last time out – and wasn't too far away from opening the scoring in this one. A long ball from Ricardo Rocha bounced awkwardly in front of the Saints back line, allowing Norris the chance to shoot just wide of the left-hand post.
With the first-half coming to an end, it was coming to fruition that this was going to be a 'one or two goal game', with both sides struggling to amass a decent effort on target, let alone one to trouble either goalkeeper. For all their pressure, Southampton had little to show for their effort, and Portsmouth lacked creativity, playing a 4-4-1-1 formation, regularly seen since Appleton's appointment.
The second half was similar, however it was evident that both sides had received a 'rocket' from their respective managers during the interval. The hosts came out and seemed more keen to keep the ball on the ground, however were still struggling to supply lone striker Dave Kitson with the ball to unpick their rival's defence. Southampton were still looking dangerous, with Lambert and Guly Do Prado up front causing havoc, however failed at the last hurdle to take the lead.
It wasn't until the 63rd minute until the game got its first goal though, after a good spell of pressure from the visitors. A free-kick from the impressive Daniel Fox was met by the head of Lambert, who glanced home from just five yards past a helpless Henderson.
After that, Portsmouth crumbled. There was no attacking flair, no creativity – their all-round play was flat and predictable. Fans' grew frustrated that Kitson, who had played the entire game up on his own, was getting little service; that what he did have, he wasted.
The hosts tried to liven up their afternoon, bringing on Erik Huseklepp mid-way through the second half, looking to inject some much-needed pace and creativity on the left wing. However, this seemed a wasted move by the Pompey boss, as the Norwegian international found himself starved of service, and with little support in key areas.
Then came the introduction of Márkó Futács. The Hungarian, signed from Werder Bremen in the summer, was introduced late into the second half. Appleton was looking to inject some power and pace up front, taking off Hayden Mullins, who had a quiet afternoon in midfield.
Futács, who joined the club when Steve Cotterill was in charge, has yet to score for Portsmouth – with his own manager stating that he needed to 'trim down and go out on loan', just weeks after signing him from the German outfit.
However the striker offered Pompey a new dimension to their play, which then worked to their advantage, winning a corner late on. The set piece, delivered by Norris, led to a scramble in the box. George Thorne's header looped back across the box, with Ward showing his determination – thumping a header into the back of the net, sending home fans' into raptures.
A fair result for both sides, in a frustrating afternoon for both sets of fans'. Portsmouth maintained their unbeaten run over the last four matches and Southampton regained their one-point lead at the top of the league.
Portsmouth: Henderson, Halford, Rocha, Pearce, Mattock, Ward, Mullins (Futács 78), Thorne, Lawrence (Huseklepp 64), Norris, Kitson.
Subs Not Used: Ashdown, Mokoena, Mwaruwari.
Southampton: Davis, Richardson, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox (Harding 77), Schneiderlin, Hammond, Cork, Lallana, Do Prado, Lambert.
Subs Not Used: Bialkowski, Martin, Holmes, De Ridder.
Referee: Mark Halsey