Pompey 0 Fleetwood 1

Pompey keeper John Sullivan rushes off his line to thwart Jamille Matt, before the ball cruelly takes a ricochet off the covering Sonny Bradley, right, and finds its way into the back of the net Picture: Barry Zee
Pompey keeper John Sullivan rushes off his line to thwart Jamille Matt, before the ball cruelly takes a ricochet off the covering Sonny Bradley, right, and finds its way into the back of the net Picture: Barry Zee
Pompey's Gareth Evans. Picture: Joe Pepler

Evans: Player talk has lifted Pompey form

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The smattering of boos from some which rumbled around Fratton Park at the final whistle were certainly audible.

It was not widespread – a reaction comfortably from the small, small minority – yet the expression of discontent was unmistakably there.

There remain expectations at Pompey, exacting standards undiminished by plummets down the league and the necessity to rebuild with smaller budgets.

It isn’t just the bookies who have Guy Whittingham’s team down to storm to promotion this season, clearly there are also Blues supporters who share the same opinion.

And already, a mere eight matches into the league campaign, the dissatisfaction following another Fratton Park defeat was there for all to hear.

Not that Pompey were particularly wretched against Fleetwood on Saturday – it was far from an abject, passionless display, and they were not dominated in all areas of the pitch.

Neither were they on the receiving end of a thumping.

Sonny Bradley’s own goal settling matters and sealing a third home defeat before the end of September.

What the display was, though, was lacklustre, often unimaginative and without a reasonable shot on goal to trouble the criminally-underused Scott Davies, who enjoyed an afternoon practically unchallenged.

The attacking flair which has so encouragingly characterised the Blues’ early-season performances failed to crackle into life on this occasion, even with the re-introduction of catalyst David Connolly.

Livewires Andy Barcham and Ricky Holmes were surprisingly subdued, Jed Wallace had been benched, while the usually outstanding Connolly/Patrick Agyemang strike axis spluttered and stammered.

Perhaps most crucial of all, the team failed to recreate some excellent away displays in front of their home fans and this time there was no sending off to take into consideration.

Unlike Oxford and Chesterfield, it was 11 against 11, and the hosts were found wanting against their high-flying opponents who would have won by a greater margin had it not been for John Sullivan.

As a result, the Fratton faithful were justifiably going to be unhappy at witnessing such a disappointing display against the Cod Army – yet another team visiting the south coast for the first time in their history, having risen from non-league.

The post-match response, however, emphasised the immense challenge Whittingham faces, not just in terms of winning matches but speedily satisfying the cravings of supporters in the long climb back.

Fans are tired of struggling, they are fed-up of seeing their team lose against clubs who were not even in the Football League when they were bloodying noses in the Premier League and competing in FA Cup finals.

They are sick to death of being lectured that they should be grateful just to have a football club to support and to sit down and just remember that in future please.

The outcome, it seems, is patience is already wearing thin so early in the campaign and some are beginning to question the ability of a manager who has only had the role permanently since the summer.

The fact remains, more than 15,000 people paying to watch their team in every home fixture are not going to accept losing without a whimper of protest.

Some of the criticism harshly levelled at Whittingham post-Fleetwood surrounded changing a winning team following the previous weekend’s 2-1 triumph at Burton.

In fairness, Whittingham had to, considering right-back Yassin Moutaouakil was suspended and fellow defender Joe Devera ruled out with a hamstring strain – two enforced decisions which saw Shaun Cooper and Bondz N’Gala brought in.

Elsewhere, the manager opted to recall Marcos Painter following injury to replace Danny East a left-back – a role the versatile performer has done well in, yet, was always going to be a strictly temporary solution.

The fourth and final change was to bring back Connolly after his three-match suspension and leave Wallace out – a decision which also prompted a change in system with the restoring of the 4-4-2 formation. The Connolly situation was always going to be a massive call.

It was one debated and analysed long by supporters before the match, particularly considering the good form of Barcham, Holmes and Wallace.

There would have to be one of the in-form three to make way to accommodate the return of Pompey’s talismanic top scorer – and on this occasion it was Wallace.

During the second half the Fratton end chanted Wallace’s name on occasions – such was their desire to see his introduction to galvanise the team.

As it was, in the 15 minutes he did feature – after entering in place of Barcham – he also failed to impress, unable to breathe required life into the hosts.

As for new loan recruit John Marquis, the Millwall youngster was an unused substitute, with Tom Craddock preferred to replace Agyemang in the 79th minute.

In truth, once Bradley put through his own net, there was no coming back for Pompey.

They couldn’t even muster a shot.

Clearly an impressive side, Fleetwood were, afterwards, far too comfortable in maintaining their lead, with the excellent Ryan Cresswell dominating defensively.

Interestingly, Fleetwood now join Oxford and Chesterfield in winning at Fratton Park this season – three of League Two’s top four teams.

Still, despite being below-par on Saturday, Whittingham’s men did match their opponents in most areas of the pitch, even if it wasn’t in front of goal.

Simon Ferry turned in his most complete performance in a Pompey shirt yet – a fact recognised by the Fratton faithful who often generously applauded some of his finer moments.

Whether it be in possession, tracking back or tackling, there were times when the Scot was simply magnificent and a delight to watch. Meanwhile, Sullivan gave his best display of the season, marked by a string of fine saves in both halves.

Unfortunately for him, in the 67th minute when Jamille Matt surged through, his save would, by a cruel twist of fate, lead to the decisive goal.

The ball ricocheted off the tracking Bradley and bounced into the unguarded net as the defender attempted in vain to hack it away.

Not that Pompey really deserved a point against arguably the best side in the division.

Yet clearly the fans expect more from a talented Blues squad who again have failed at Fratton Park.