Pompey 2 MK Dons 0 – Neil Allen’s match report

Oli Hawkins scores his second goal against MK Dons Picture: Joe Pepler
Oli Hawkins scores his second goal against MK Dons Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey skipper Brett Pitman

Pompey boss: We must sharpen up attacking ideas

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It was hardly a glimpse, neither was it a fleeting moment. More a lingering look.

The duration spanned 45 minutes, the sum of a first half, and sufficient time period to deliver a powerful presentation to those gathered.

Kenny Jackett’s Pompey had truly clicked.

It was compelling, a slick, fast-paced attacking fare which had the MK Dons retreating at every opportunity to hurriedly batten down the hatches.

Despite their understandable desire for self-preservation in the face of the insatiable onslaught, the half-time deficit was two goals.

The Blues were simply a joy to behold during Saturday’s first half, a tantalising spectacle for the Fratton faithful.

It wasn’t merely the finest 45 minutes of Jackett’s reign, but a captivating demonstration of the footballing blueprint he is attempting to implement.

Forget fine words, those actions roared the vision of this League One regime with aspirations of climbing so much further.

Suddenly Pompey are one point away from the play-offs following successive league victories. On Saturday they dared to suggest that may become a regular scenario.

Not wishing to overplay the significance of a single half of football, of course, it would be rash to proclaim the Blues as promotion candidates as a consequence.

Such a hysterical proclamation would be unhelpful in a campaign where the focus must remain on stability and reconstruction.

The vast majority of the Fratton faithful, though, are realistic enough to not burden the team with lofty expectations of a swift tenancy in League One.

Yet on Saturday the signs of encouraging progress were so deliciously unmistakable, as those among the 17,608 crowd of Pompey persuasion will testify.

Jackett has swiftly set about constructing a team equipped with his own personnel to aid the adjustment to League One level.

Against MK Dons, Matt Clarke, Christian Burgess and Kyle Bennett represented the only survivors from the starting XI on the title-winning occasion against Cheltenham.

Yet what unfolded was, to date, the most tangible grasp of Jackett’s footballing brand and style as he continues in attempts to evolve the talented squad he inherited.

Fittingly, at the heart of it, were Oli Hawkins, Matty Kennedy and Stuart O’Keefe, players the Blues boss recruited on transfer deadline day.

Yet while that trio sang loudest within a harmonious team performance, there were other impressive turns from many of their playing colleagues.

All achieved without the significant presence of their skipper, leading scorer and reigning Sky Bet Player of the Month Brett Pitman, who continues to convalesce following a knee operation.

For the visit of Robbie Neilson’s side, Pompey had been buoyed by the return of Christian Burgess to the starting line-up following three matches out with a calf problem.

It presented the centre-half with his 100th outing for the club as he continues to remain the backbone, irrespective of the manager in charge.

His arrival represented the sole change to the team which won at Gillingham in the previous fixture, although there was also a reshuffle.

Hawkins, so admirable as a stand-in at the Priestfield Stadium, returned to the focal point of Pompey’s attack, with Curtis Main dropping out as a result.

However, Main was already injured, having sustained a hamstring problem which is expected to keep him out of action for around two weeks.

Elsewhere, O’Keefe once more wore the captain’s armband, while Bennett maintained the number 10 role for a third-successive match.

As a team, they subsequently served up an often breathtaking opening 45 minutes to effectively have the game settled by the interval.

The Blues couldn’t rediscover their swagger for the second half, however they remained entirely comfortable in dealing with a Dons side made to look very ineffectual.

At the heart of the 2-0 triumph was, of course, Hawkins, the striker-cum-defender who has made such an immediate impact following his arrival from non-league football.

The 25-year-old took his tally to four goals in nine Pompey outings, as well as to scoop successive man-of-the-match accolades after another magnificent performance.

Hawkins laid credit to his two-goal display at the feet of coach Robbie Blake, who had been working on his box movement on the training pitch.

Indeed, both strikes came from around six-yards out, capitalising on crosses delivered from the wing – with no header in sight.

The deadlock was broken on 14 minutes when the ever-lively Kennedy capitalised on a stray pass out of defence by Ethan Ebanks-Landell.

The Cardiff loanee collected the ball down the left and burst into the box ahead of the defender before pulling the ball back.

Hawkins’ movement had taken him clear of his marker and he produced a first-time finish with the outside of his right foot to register.

The second punch – and ultimately game-clincher – was delivered during first-half stoppage time, once more from the impressive Hawkins.

Nathan Thompson combined with Jamal Lowe down the right and when the ball was lost, the winger battled away to win it back.

His cross deflected its way to the far post, where Hawkins was lurking to steer the ball home from close range.

There was a glance towards the linesman out of fear that the offside flag may intervene, yet there was no such sight and the Blues had their deserved two-goal lead.

The Dons were never going to fight their way back from such a disadvantage, especially against a defence excellently marshalled by Matt Clarke.

In fact, the hosts continued to threaten to add to their tally, albeit without the same effectiveness as demonstrated in the opening half.

Still, the first-half display had been compelling enough to put Pompey on the way to victory and offer optimism further down the line.

A tough week lies ahead, with trips to Doncaster and Blackburn on the schedule, yet all can be heartened from the preluding display.

Dare it be suggested that Jackett’s team is beginning to gel following a period of inconsistency.

But the eyes don’t often deceive.