Thurrock 0 Pompey 2

Ryan Bird rattles the crossbar at Thurrock. Picture: Joe Pepler
Ryan Bird rattles the crossbar at Thurrock. Picture: Joe Pepler
Samantha Quayle. Picture: Jordan Hampton

Flying start for Pompey with Cardiff swept aside

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Craig Westcarr tightened his grasp on a Pompey starting spot as he took his pre-season goal tally to four.

The former Walsall man lit up a sloppy first-half with two goals in six minutes against non-league Thurrock.

There was a touch of good fortune about his 33rd-minute opener – the keeper allowing the ball to squirm into the net – but the technique behind his snapshot was commendable.

Then, on 39 minutes, Westcarr placed the ball into the far corner with right-foot precision to make it 2-0 to Andy Awford’s men at the break.

The 29-year-old didn’t appear for the second half as the Blues introduced three substitutes, depriving him of his hat-trick moment.

Joe Devera hit the post after the break, Ryan Bird rattled the bar, while Andy Barcham had one ruled out for offside as the Ship Lane encounter ended 2-0.

Regardless, it was another indication of Westcarr’s talents having also netted twice in the first pre-season friendly against the Hawks.

Competition is particularly fierce in the three spots behind the lone centre forward in Awford’s preferred system which he continues to utilise in these fixtures.

Yet Westcarr is providing an almost irresistible argument to start in the middle of that trio for the August 9 opening day trip to Exeter City.

And with 16 goals netted in League One last season for his best-ever return, the indications are there’s plenty more to come in the campaign ahead.

Awford’s squad was without Ryan Taylor, who earlier in the day had left Five Lakes to attend a funeral.

James Dunne had a tight hamstring and, although able to return to training in the morning, it was decided against risking him.

Michael Poke was once again missing because of the ankle he turned in training, so Alex Bass retained his place in the match-day squad.

In addition, Danny East (groin), Tom Craddock (knee), Wes Fogden (knee) and David Connolly (out of favour) were not present.

However, Jack Whatmough returned from the dead leg which kept him out of the 6-1 victory over Bognor to start alongside Adam Webster in the centre of defence.

Bird started in attack, Johnny Ertl partnered Nigel Atangana in the holding midfield roles, while Alex Wynter and Dan Butler were the full-backs.

The bench contained 11 players as Awford sought to shuffle his team during the second period.

When the match got under way, after eight minutes Ertl met Jed Wallace’s right-wing corner with a thumping header but it was straight at the keeper.

Moments later a furious Butler confronted Charlie Stimson after the Thurrock striker took out Whatmough late with an ugly challenge but there was no booking.

It was fitful from the Blues in the early stages, however, as they struggled for fluency underneath the Essex sunshine.

On the half-hour mark, Agyemang’s lax lay-off was intercepted by Brad Warner whose ball down the middle to free Robert Clark was marginally over-hit and Paul Jones gathered.

At the other end, Miles Storey burst into life by cutting in from the left flank and drilling a right-foot shot narrowly wide of the far post.

On 33 minutes the deadlock was broken as Westcarr grabbed his third of the pre-season.

The former Walsall man fired in snapshot which was partially stopped by Andy Walker in the Thurrock goal only for the ball to bounce and still creep into the net.

Awford’s men had their breakthrough and then Wallace went agonisingly close with a curling left-foot effort from the right which narrowly missed the far post.

The visitors extended their lead on 39 minutes, with Westcarr striking once again.

Atangana fed him inside the penalty area and the striker produced a smart right-foot finish into the far corner to make it 2-0.

Pompey were finishing the half strongly and Wynter clipped a shot narrowly over the bar having been teed up by the impressive Westcarr.

At the interval Awford made three changes with Westcarr, Whatmough and Wallace all being withdrawn.

Ertl dropped back into the centre of defence with Ben Close coming into midfield, while Bradley Tarbuck and Barcham occupied the flanks.

The unfortunate Tarbuck lasted just seven minutes before hobbling off to be replaced by Ricky Holmes and on 60 minutes another six substitutions were made.

Wynter – the only outfield player who started the match to still be on the pitch – should have made it 3-0 on 65 minutes but his far-post header from Holmes’ corner was a poor one.

The right-back missed another golden opportunity 10 minutes later, again from a Holmes corner, this time at the far post striking the ball into the ground and it bounced over.

As Pompey pushed for another, Devera struck a post in the 86th minute with a left-foot shot and his team-mates were unable to force the ball over the line.

Moments later, Bird struck the bar to add to the late excitement, while Barcham had another in the net only for the goal to be ruled out for offside.

It remained 2-0 as Awford’s men recorded a third successive friendly victory heading into Saturday’s trip to Ebbsfleet United.