Luton 1 Pompey 0 – Neil Allen’s match report

Luton keeper Marek Stech denies Matt Clarke Picture: Joe Pepler

As Luton’s support basked in the aftermath of FA Cup progress, they turned focus towards their guests.

‘Next year, we’ll see you all next year’ emerged the cry from those gathered in the Main Stand’s left-hand corner, a section responsible for the bulk of the home roar.

Considering the Hatters’ current placement of third in League Two and the obvious strength of their playing squad, it was a boast influenced by realism.

Yet while fans can plot an immediate future when they again lock horns with Pompey in the league arena, they can discount encountering this precise Blues side.

Evolution continues at Fratton Park, necessity dictates.

Luton are primed for promotion – while Jackett is absorbed in swiftly transforming his squad, in addition to establishing a playing identity.

The summer appointment has sought to blend a team with League One capabilities alongside those title winners, while adding a dash of youth. With mixed results.

A Kenilworth Road loss ensured the present spell reads four consecutive defeats, yet this Pompey is far from the finished article.

The breathlessness of Jackett’s overhaul has irritated some of the Fratton faithful, with the likes of Gareth Evans, Danny Rose and Kal Naismith benched.

Naismith, who has metamorphosed into nothing more than a trivial figure, failed to even make Saturday’s squad, albeit his absence put down by the manager to a hamstring problem.

At a time when this revamped Blues side are crying out for creativity and goals, the overlooking of the Scot, when fit, continues to baffle many.

Nonetheless, this is a team under continuing construction. The scaffolding remains in place, the traffic cones still inhabit the road – and it is making for erratic progress.

Adjustment was naturally required to the side which Paul Cook built for the new surroundings of League One. The step up necessitated strengthening and a vision stretching beyond short-term.

So far that process has been fitful in a campaign of mid-table expectations.

And while Jackett attempts to assemble an effective starting line-up, he also continues striving for a playing system which is similarly competent.

On Saturday, the Blues boss opted to dispose of Kyle Bennett from the number 10 role in favour of a recall for Oli Hawkins.

As it transpired, the towering striker dropped short in the manner of the number 10, with Brett Pitman serving beyond him as the lone striker. It was a tactic which failed.

The pair produced ineffective displays in a team which otherwise managed to create goal-scoring opportunities and were thwarted by keeper Marek Stech.

Ultimately, the double introduction of Bennett and Conor Chaplin in the 63rd minute for Pitman and Matty Kennedy raised Pompey’s performance levels considerably.

Yet that goal to cancel out James Collins’ first-half strike never arrived, despite much to admire from the visitors’ attacking play at times.

The outcome was 405 minutes without a goal delivered by a Pompey player and a fourth straight defeat as Jackett continues his rebuild.

Hawkins on the stroke of half-time against MK Dons was the last to register, discounting the comical own goal from Doncaster’s Mathieu Baudry, of course.

Worrying statistics, unquestionably, yet Pompey’s last two performances have impressed in long spells, even if the results have not.

Even Bradford manager Stuart McCall conceded his side were fortunate to grab a Fratton Park victory last weekend. Against Luton, tellingly the sponsors crowned Stech as their man of the match.

Pompey have responded to that wretched showing at Blackburn by producing two far superior displays. Unfortunately, the outcomes have not differed.

Suddenly Charlton in the Checkatrade Trophy is no longer a meaningless fixture in an irrelevant trophy. Pompey’s season can ill afford a fifth-successive defeat ahead of next weekend’s tricky trip to 12th-placed Blackpool.

Jackett had approached the Luton trip with no intention of granting rare first-team minutes. He recognised this was not the cup occasion for rotation.

As a consequence, he made two changes to the team which lost 1-0 to Bradford, introducing Hawkins and Brandon Haunstrup.

Dion Donohue’s faltering recent displays at left-back persuaded Pompey’s boss to hand a full debut in the FA Cup to Haunstrup, a more conventional alternative.

Donohue joined Bennett on a bench which also contained Milan Lalkovic, back in the squad having recovered from a troubling Achilles problem.

The notable absence, however, was Naismith, later explained as missing through injury.

The match that unfolded created an atmosphere which certainly belied the 5,333 attendance, of which 1,143 were away fans, such was its noise.

In the second half in particular, which developed into a pulsating affair, there were enjoyable cup traits as Pompey pushed for a leveller.

Jackett’s men had fallen behind in first-half stoppage time when Danny Hylton squared the ball first-time and it was met with a sweet finish from Collins.

Up until that point, the visiting defence had been comfortable, although their penalty area had been put under plenty of pressure.

After the break, both goalkeepers produced excellent displays to keep the scoreline down as action switched from end to end.

Luke McGee pushed a Luke Berry shot onto the bar in a personal display which grew as the game opened up with Pompey pushing forward.

Indeed had it not been for his presence, especially following Nathan Thompson’s 84th minute dismissal for two yellow cards, the scoreline would have taken on an unflattering look late on.

Meanwhile, Stech clawed Matt Clarke’s header from Kennedy’s corner onto the bar and twice denied Ben Close, the second arriving in time added on with a finger-tip touch to divert a 25-yard drive.

Central defender Alan Sheehan also cleared a Jamal Lowe attempt off the line as Pompey continued to threaten.

Still, it was Luton who progressed into the second round of this year’s FA Cup.

And for Jackett, the stuttering search for squad development continues.

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