Salisbury 0 Pompey 3 – Neil Allen’s match report

Milan Lalkovic opens the scoring at Salisbury for Pompey. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Milan Lalkovic opens the scoring at Salisbury for Pompey. Picture: Habibur Rahman
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They departed the season hoisted to the heavens by fans and occupying an exalted vantage point in Pompey history.

It would be the Raymond McEnhill Stadium which staged the return to terra firma, some 57 days later.

And an old-look Blues with the new man at the helm delivered an efficient, professional display with the ball back at their feet.

Salisbury offered an early summer run-out, while delivering the nostalgic sight of Steve Claridge leading the line at the age of 51.

Yet there were no scares for Kenny Jackett on his maiden Pompey outing in routine 3-0 victory which left both camps and a 1,766 crowd warmly satisfied in the Wiltshire sunshine.

It took until the second half for the visitors to make the breakthrough before driving home the advantage, with Milan Lalkovic in particular catching the eye.

Still, as anticipated, business as usual for the League Two title winners. Certainly Jackett elected not stray from the formula which proved so successive last term under predecessor Paul Cook.

All 22 players utilised plus the two unused substitutes were on Pompey’s books last year, while the 4-2-3-1 system remained intact.

A foot injury the previous day had claimed Nathan Thompson, the sole arrival so far of the Jackett era, while triallist Lawrie Wilson had departed after two days.

The only other fresh face for the return of pre-season, keeper Harry Isted, was also not involved, as Alex Bass and the Academy’s Jack Collins shared the duties.

Elsewhere, a calf problem sidelined Conor Chaplin, while Michael Smith maintains his return from the ankle injury sustained on loan at Northampton in April.

It meant a familiar look about the first starting XI fielded by Jackett, albeit with Gareth Evans sporting the captain’s armband in the absence of the exited Michael Doyle.

What unfolded was also reassuring as those on display overcame their non-league hosts with the level of competency expected.

Rustiness all too evident in some instances, granted, but Jackett’s desire to inject 45 minutes of match action into the legs of each of his 22 players went according to plan.

Notably, the player who spent the longest duration on the pitch during the afternoon was Claridge, Salisbury’s evergreen manager pressed into action with 10 of his squad unavailable.

The striker occupies a place in Pompey’s Hall of Fame following 124 appearances and 37 goals, while also served 137 days as manager.

His final Blues outing was more than 16 years ago, yet there was that familiar sight of sock rolled down and willingness to work.

There were even first-half occasions when Claridge drew fouls out of Matt Clarke, before Tom Davies took over marking duties after the break.

While first-year professional Jez Bedford stumbled into the same trap, a player almost 33 years the ex-Leicester man’s junior.

At one stage, the Salisbury official manning the microphone mistakenly announced Claridge was being substituted, attracting applause. Yet the veteran refused such an offer.

It wouldn’t be until the 82nd minute when he finally departed the pitch during a double substitution, with the scoreline already settled at 3-0.

Irrespective of the result, it was perhaps Claridge’s day in an friendly encounter of few surprises and, in truth, serving little to quicken the pulse.

Standard fare for a pre-season occasion, especially considering its early nature and the matter Pompey had only returned to training 48 hours earlier.

Part of the learning curve for Jackett as he continues to assess the squad he inherited a month earlier, albeit unquestionably a highly-talented one.

In the absence of Chaplin and Smith, the new boss pushed Kal Naismith into the lone striker role for the first half as the team drew a blank.

Meanwhile, Adam May occupied the holding midfield role dominated by former skipper Doyle, with Brandon Haunstrup lining up at left-back in place of the departed Enda Stevens.

Elsewhere, Bass served as goalkeeper as Jackett’s hunt for a replacement for David Forde continues, although hopes remain high Christian Walton can be secured on loan from Brighton.

What unfolded was an opening 45 minutes which finished deadlocked as Salisbury restricted the visitors to barely any goal-scoring opportunities.

Christian Burgess sent a second-minute header from a corner narrowly wide, while May flashed a fierce volley off target when well placed.

Although perhaps the most notable moment occurred on 37 minutes when the Salisbury Tannoy announcer asked supporters to tone down their language as children were present in the ground.

At half-time Jackett made 11 changes, a pre-planned approach, and finally the hard-working Whites were broken down amid the constant substitutions.

On 53 minutes, Curtis Main slid an excellent first-time pass down the left channel and the lively Lalkovic drew the keeper before calmly slotting a left-foot shot into the net.

It was Lalkovic’s first Blues outing at any level since turning out for the reserves at Exeter in January for a Central League Cup fixture.

The winger proceeded to turn in an exciting display as he strives to shine now Cook has departed Fratton Park, offering a clean slate.

The visitors doubled their advantage in the 63rd minute after Nicke Kabamba had drawn a double save out of keeper Charlie Searle.

Carl Baker, skipper for the half, delivered the subsequent corner in from the left and there was Tom Davies to head home from close range.

The central defender faces an uncertain Fratton Park future, with Tranmere linked, but his finish effectively settled the match as a contest.

It was left for Ben Close to seal the scoreline on 75 minutes after more excellent work from Lalkovic down the left.

The winger stood up a cross to the far post and, when it was cleared, the ball fell to Close who took a touch before rifling in a shot from the edge of the area.

The ball struck the underside of the bar as it entered the net and Pompey had their 3-0 result.

There was, of course, still time for Claridge to rightly earn his applause from both sets of supporters as he left the pitch on 82 minutes.

Smiles all round then as Pompey’s pre-season – and Jackett’s era in charge – kicked off with victory.

POMPEY: Bass (46 mins Collins), Evans (46 mins Talbot), Burgess (46 mins Davies), Clarke (46 mins Whatmough), Haunstrup (46 mins Bedford), Rose (46 mins Widdrington), May (46 mins Close), Lowe (46 mins Baker), Bennett (46 mins Main), Roberts (46 mins Lalkovic), Naismith (46 mins Kabamba).

Subs Not Used: Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dan Smith.

Attendance: 1,766