Pompey 0 Leyton Orient 1: Neil Allen’s match report

Pompey striker Michael Smith's route to goal is blocked against Leyton Orient    Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey striker Michael Smith's route to goal is blocked against Leyton Orient Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey's Brett Pitman scores a penalty in the Blues' 1-1 draw against Walsall at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South.

Picture gallery: Pompey 1 Walsall 1

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There are days when scorelines are misleading, wholly inaccurate portrayals of the match which unfolded.

Saturday was one such occasion.

Pompey suffered a 1-0 defeat to Leyton Orient – but how they deserved to fail by a larger margin.

The crossbar, the post and Jay Simpson intervened to prevent a greater number of goals being racked up by the visitors.

Truth be told, Paul Cook could have had no complaints had such an unpalatable outcome occurred.

The Blues desperately required a victory to kick-start their promotion push once more, especially with many of their rivals sidelined through late call-offs.

Instead Cook’s troops turned in their most abject and witless display so far during his unquestionably encouraging regime.

The record books will forever display one goal separated the sides at Fratton Park – yet those present know the difference between the teams was oh so greater.

No goalkeeper at either end to blame, no hapless referee to criticise, no rolling out parking the proverbial bus as the reasoning.

Pompey were not good enough, it really is as simple as that.

The booing which rang out at the final whistle was a reaction from so many of the Fratton faithful which was fully warranted.

At times this season high expectations and a lack of fan patience have conspired to pile harsh criticism on those players on display.

There can be no complaints, however, over the vocal backlash directed at the Blues on Saturday.

Cook’s much-changed team were inadequate and insipid, thereby piling on the doubts they are actually equipped to break into those three automatic promotion spots.

In a season when Cook has been rightly applauded for producing the best football the Fratton faithful have savoured since the Harry Redknapp era, Saturday supplied a display worthy of heavy criticism.

Post-match, skipper Michael Doyle, in typical forthright fashion, spoke of the team being in a ‘rut’ and having ‘kind of tailed off’.

With one win in their last six league matches since that magnificent victory at Northampton, it is hard to disagree.

Incidentally, the Cobblers have won every single League Two fixture since that December occasion, remaining at the top of the table.

Football clubs and a number of vigilant supporters usually crave positives to cling on to in low moments, no matter how small the scrap.

However, the Orient defeat contained nothing but negatives. It was truly awful.

Questions, of course, must also be asked over the manager’s selection – and formation – decisions which produced such a lacklustre and unsatisfactory display.

As at Morecambe in midweek, the 4-4-2 system was rolled out to accommodate Marc McNulty and Michael Smith as a front pairing.

Meanwhile, a contender for such a formation, Matt Tubbs, spent his pre-match routine playing Fifa 16 with supporters in an attempt by the Pompey Supporters’ Trust to sign up a younger fanbase.

For the first time in the league this season, Ben Davies was not selected in the starting line-up, clearly a massive talking point.

Surely the player of the campaign so far, Cook’s reasoning centred on resting the 34-year-old following three matches in a week – with Kieron Freeman handed his debut.

Also missing from the side was Gareth Evans, one of Pompey’s best performers during the previous two months and the goalscorer at Morecambe.

Both players were positioned on the bench and, robbed of the presence of such regular starters, the Blues noticeably lacked the usual energy and drive down their right flank.

Instead, a rusty Freeman was given his first match since November, while the predominantly left-footed Gary Roberts was asked to serve on the right-hand side of midfield.

The 4-2-3-1 system was eventually reverted to in the 60th minute, upon the introduction of Evans in place of the ineffective Smith. It made little difference.

Yet the result was not solely dictated by the formation, too many of Cook’s players contributed to an overall flat display, lacking in energy and creativity.

Gone also was the trademark domination of possession, seemingly discounted in favour of a more direct approach to benefit the presence of a two-man strikeforce.

In the process this was a shadow of the Pompey side which delighted a mere week earlier against Bournemouth in the FA Cup and before that saw off Championship side Ipswich Town.

Repackaged and rebundled, this new-look product failed to satisfy and in the process the Blues have been left further than ever off the promotion pace.

Not that they were overrun by Kevin Nolan’s side, far from it. This was no demonstration of one-way traffic with the hosts struggling to find a foothold.

Pompey did enjoy possession, they were largely comfortable on the ball and consistently showed an attacking intent, even if there was no outcome.

However, crucially, the visitors created plenty more goal-scoring opportunities than their below-par opposition, wasting all but one of them.

And it was a stunning strike from Jobi McAnuff in the 53rd minute that settled the issue. A goal worthy of being paraded as the match-winner.

There appeared little danger when Doyle blocked Calaum Jahraldo-Martin as he charged forward down the right.

Yet the loose ball fell into the path of McAnuff, who struck a sublime first-time shot which sailed into the top corner, giving Ryan Fulton no chance.

Before that moment, Nolan had improbably missed from seven yards, instead striking the top of the bar.

Then 10 minutes after the goal, Simpson contrived to scoop one over from close range following Nolan’s header back across goal. Substitute Armand Gnanduillet also struck the right-hand post with a fierce shot as full-time approached.

In contrast, Alex Cisak saved at McNulty’s feet, Kyle Bennett planted a free header wide, while substitute Conor Chaplin sent a far-post header over the bar in stoppage-time.

It wasn’t nearly good enough from a side with aspirations of promotion and now trailing Orient in the table.

A low point for Cook and his Pompey team this season – let no narrow scoreline disguise that.