Pompey 0 Bradford 1 – Neil Allen’s match report

Ben Close sees his shot blocked by Matt Kilgallon at Fratton Park Picture: Joe Pepler
Ben Close sees his shot blocked by Matt Kilgallon at Fratton Park Picture: Joe Pepler
Matt Clarke. Picture: Joe Pepler

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Following the scramble to locate the jaws that had dropped, the Fratton faithful found their hands.

The subsequent applause was both touching and heartening, the crutch for Kyle Bennett to haul himself up on as he lay floored.

He was at his lowest point, demoralised and bruised on the canvas, yet amid the frustration engulfing the stadium, the supporters united to reach out.

It would have been easy to bury the 27-year-old during a fixture in which profligacy in front of goal was responsible for defeat – and he was the chief culprit.

This was no one-man show by any means, as poor defending from Tony McMahon’s 80th minute free-kick will testify, nonetheless Bennett should have been the match winner.

Instead a failure to even direct three golden goal-scoring opportunities on target earmarked him for justified criticism on the back of three successive defeats.

The worst of the bunch arrived on 48 minutes after demonstrating the presence of mind to anticipate a Bradford defensive slip.

Following a ball pumped down the middle, Adam Thompson attempted to glance a pass back towards keeper Colin Doyle via his head. However, it was read by the alert Bennett.

Pompey’s winger nipped in behind the central defender to round the Bantams’ charging keeper and carve a pathway through to a now vacant goal.

Admittedly the angle was tight, while the right-footed shot had to be supplied swiftly. The outcome was an attempt which smacked against the side netting, the Blues man’s momentum catapulting him to the turf.

There was disbelief, the vast majority of those gathered for Fratton Park’s largest attendance of the season were stunned. Exasperatingly, another chance at the feet of Bennett had been spurned.

Jaw-droppingly, the hosts were still unable to break the deadlock against Stuart McCall’s under-fire high-fliers.

Then it happened.

Clapping filled the air, growing in volume, serving as an acknowledgment at the part Bennett’s persistence had played in that opening rather than criticism over his disappointing execution.

As Pompey’s number 23 clambered to his feet, grim-faced at his latest misdirection, applause poured into his ears.

A classy response from Blues followers at a time they would have been cursing under their collective breath at the frittering of yet another opportunity to break the deadlock.

When Bennett was substituted 19 minutes later in favour of Conor Chaplin, that magnificent fan backing continued as he approached the touchline.

Some in the South stand rose to their feet to applaud a player whose five goals in his final 10 appearances of last season aided the march to the title.

The former Doncaster man continues to divide the critics and possesses flaws in his shooting which have impeded his personal progress in the Football League.

Yet he has played a pivotal part in the ongoing resurgence of Pompey, while his commitment and effort to the club could never be questioned.

Certainly, post-match, Kenny Jackett focused on his player’s ‘athleticism’ to find himself in those goal-scoring positions rather than subsequent wayward finishing.

In fact, the Blues’ boss was publicly more incensed over the manner of Bradford’s winner, with Matt Kilgallon left unmarked to head home.

Approaching Saturday’s match, right-back Tony McMahon had collected six assists and September’s Sky Bet Goal of the Month courtesy of his dead-ball expertise.

Well, he added another to the tally at Fratton Park, albeit having earlier wound up home supporters through time-wasting boot-tying antics and later even arguing with team-mate Jake Reeves.

Still, Pompey should have beaten third-placed Bradford with goals to spare and such an outcome surely would not have represented an injustice.

From the first minute, the hosts seized control and, while McCall’s men had headed opportunities for Romain Vincelot and Charlie Wyke, they represented nothing more than occasional forays.

As the Blues’ list of missed chances lengthened, so increased the nagging doubt that Bradford may snatch an unlikely goal to steal victory.

And so it proved.

Jackett had made one change to the team which performed so disappointingly in the Blackburn storms, with Brett Pitman recalled.

Unsurprising considering the leading scorer’s availability to start a match having recovered from knee surgery, yet few could have anticipated him replacing Oli Hawkins.

Instead, Pompey’s boss opted keep Bennett in the middle of the attacking three, with Pitman serving as the lone striker.

It was the first time the duo had been paired together and, while opportunities were created, sadly none were seized in a 1-0 triumph for the Bantams.

The team selection should have proven fruitful, yet instead Jackett may have to reconsider as he strives to unearth goals in his side.

It was Jamal Lowe who had the first chance, collecting a ball inside from Bennett and firing a right-foot shot with Doyle pushed out with little fuss.

As it turned out, it represented one of the rare instances that afternoon of the keeper being called into action to deny the hosts’ dominance.

Bennett’s first opportunity arrived on 10 minutes, after Matty Kennedy fed the ball inside from the left.

The winger sized up a right-foot shot from just inside the left-channel of the box, only to curl it narrowly wide of the far post.

Barely 60 seconds later and the same player ballooned the ball well over the bar after assistance from Pitman.

The next tantalising opening arrived on 29 minutes, with Kennedy on left picking out Bennett with a wonderful cross-field pass.

From inside the box, he proceeded to blaze high over the bar, much to the exasperation of supporters.

As the game progressed, on 68 minutes Doyle came off his line to deny Ben Close, while Kennedy’s follow-up attempt was brilliantly tipped over.

Then, in the 80th minute, Dion Donohue brought down Adam Gilliead while on the counter attack. Up stepped McMahon and Kilgallon’s free header settled matters.

Another defeat for Pompey but, like Bennett, they must pick themselves up off the canvass and fight on.