Shot-shy Pompey were indebted to Phil Smith, who ensured their unbeaten pre-season record didn’t end at Braintree
The Amlin Stadium last night marked a third-successive summer fixture against non-league opposition.
But whereas Guy Whittingham’s men were highly convincing against the Hawks and Bognor, they largely failed to shine against the Iron in a goalless draw,
Had it not been for the presence of Smith, it would have been a loss at Alan Devonshire’s Conference National side.
Playing the entire 90 minutes, the former Swindon man who is yet to make a competitive appearance for the Blues produced a number of crucial second-half saves.
In contrast, Pompey created just the one goal-scoring opportunity – Ashley Harris driving a shot against the legs of keeper Nathan McDonald on the stroke of half-time.
The team display was not of the calibre witnessed in odd halves during their previous two friendlies – which yielded nine goals.
Whittingham will point to further progression on the fitness front with 19 of his squad receiving run outs at Braintree.
Nonetheless, the performance in front of a sizeable Fratton away following was disappointing and largely lacklustre.
The fact Smith shone most is testimony enough for how the match unfolded on another pleasant July evening.
In the battle with John Sullivan for a first-team spot, it was a timely display from the experienced keeper who spent so long as Simon Eastwood’s understudy last term.
Harris and Adam Webster also caught the eye in their most effective pre-season run outs so far.
Yet it was Smith’s night, with a performance which will no doubt boost his morale and belief for the campaign ahead.
With Sonny Bradley missing through a slight groin injury, Whittingham had a squad of 21 to select from for the match.
That ensured Smith, Webster and Harris featured for the full 90 minutes at the Amlin Stadium.
The majority of the substitutes entered on the 62nd-minute mark, continuing the policy of giving most a run out.
Regardless, it was a strong starting XI for the Blues in their third friendly of the pre-season.
Danny East was given the chance to impress in the centre of midfield, while Ricky Holmes and Jed Wallace occupied the flanks.
Bradley’s absence ensured Webster partnered Joe Devera in the heart of defence and Harris lined-up alongside Patrick Agyemang in attack.
When the game got under way, Pompey’s first opportunity arrived in the 10th minute with a patient build-up and excellent approach play.
It came to a conclusion when Agyemang laid the ball off and the on-rushing Johnny Ertl rifled a left-foot shot from the edge of the area which flew out of the ground.
At the other end, Kenny Davis fired over, while Dan Holman’s hooked shot in the 33rd minute suffered the same fate to continue the dearth of goalmouth action.
In the 44th minute, Braintree keeper McDonald was finally drawn into action but it was only to collect after Harris had mis-controlled Yassin Moutaouakil’s through ball.
On the half-time whistle, Agyemang sent the youngster clear only for him to fire his shot against the keeper’s legs.
Tom Craddock was brought on a half-time in place of Agyemang, Pompey’s only substitution at the break with the score goalless.
Braintree had strong appeals for a penalty waved away in the 59th minute when Devera appeared to crowbar Sean Marks onto the floor.
Perhaps the Pompey defender having his arms in the air to imply he meant no harm worked in his favour as referee Mike Bull saw nothing in it.
The visitors suffered a scare on the hour mark when Sam Habergham whipped in a dangerous ball from the left which required just a touch to hit the back of the net.
Fortunately for the Blues, Holman failed to get clean contact and the ball screwed for a corner.
In the 62nd minute, Whittingham made seven changes – ripping up his midfield completely and altering two of the back four.
It was the hosts, though, who almost broke the deadlock courtesy of a substitute.
Jordan Cox’s first contribution was to spin and fire a shot which Smith did superbly to beat out and the Blues breathed a sigh of relief.
On 80 minutes, Nicky Symons drove an effort from distance which again drew a decent stop from the scrambling Smith.
Braintree were pushing and causing the visitors problems, while at the other end Whittingham’s men were struggling to muster even a meaningful shot on goal.
Still, Webster was impressing at the back, while Harris was having his most fruitful game in attack to at least provide some positives.
But when the final whistle sounded for full-time the feelings of those Pompey fans watching was of disappointment rather than satisfaction.