Crewe 0 Pompey 0: Jordan Cross' match report

No high fives this time at Gresty Road.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 14th August 2016, 12:53 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 5:59 pm
Substitute Curtis Main goes close for Pompey in their 0-0 draw with Crewe at Gresty Road Picture: Joe Pepler

No exultant fans celebrating shoulder-to-shoulder with their jubilant team-mates.

And no iconic images to savour amid the sweetest of victories.

Just the thought of what could, and probably should have been.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

And then the growing sense of foreboding as thoughts turn to the plight of one of our brightest young hopes.

On Saturday, Crewe’s home echoed with the memories of Pompey’s last visit there in March 2013.

Back then it was all about defiance as a mish-mash of football’s waifs and strays ended the worst winless run in the club’s history as they fought for survival.

Portsmouth Football Club is a very different beast today. The footings are sound now, the building project is behind schedule and it’s time for tangible signs of progress and things to take shape.

The expectancy is omnipresent. And quite right, too.

Make no mistake, a point on the road at team who have started promisingly after dropping into League One is nothing to be too downcast about.

But the manner in which Paul Cook’s men set about Crewe so systematically for the first 20 minutes raised the prospect of a maximum from possibility to inevitability.

Pompey moved the ball around with purpose and pace. Carl Baker surged, Milan Lalkovic probed and Kal Naismith overlapped as the visitors went about their business with purpose and intent.

Balls were peppered into the home penalty area from every conceivable angle. Deep-lying deliveries. Check. Break the lines and reach the byline. Check.

Like watching Team GB in the Rio cycling velodrome, the demand for success has replaced what for so long has been the hope of victory.

And that victory was there to be had.

Yet, the swagger with which Pompey went about their work was not matched with the same conviction in the final third.

It’s the manager’s lot to protect his players, and Paul Cook will do everything do just that.

But the Blues boss isn’t so disrespectful to the reasoned fans’ voices who aired a degree of frustration about the attacking impotence in east Cheshire.

A fan’s email irked Cook after a Carlisle display which ticked the boxes on performance but not result.

This time there was no bristling over the talking points. Just an acceptance that highlighting a lack of cutting edge was a valid standpoint. And echoed his own frustrations.

That, naturally, currently centres on Michael Smith’s early-season form.

Witnessing inviting balls whizz across the box incomplete has been the issue to get the blood pressure rising from 180 minutes of league action.

Smith may not be the arch-poacher fox-in-the-box predator to feast on those gifts - but he needs to be attacking them. And he doesn’t need informing of that truth.

Two such moments arrived within the first six minutes on Saturday.

The fear was the left-sided pairing of Lalkovic and Naismith, deputising at left-back for the injured Enda Stevens, would have their defensive deficiencies exposed.

Instead, they manned the supply lines as two of Pompey’s standout performers.

There was shock in the pool in Rio on Friday when Michael Phelps was toppled by a Singaporean winning his country’s first Olympic gold.

You would have got longer odds on Naismith starting two of the first three games of the season at left-back, though.

His demeanour belied a strong showing, though, as the first-half wore on and another cultured swing of his left peg produced another unaccepted gift in the box.

The 1,257 travelling Pompey fans knew where he was coming from,

The thought, on reflection, was one of opportunity. But, ultimately, one not seized upon as they traipsed back down the M6.

Football League Tonight’s highlights of the game amounted to a full 30 seconds on Saturday night. Probably a fair representation of events.

There was no place for Michael Doyle’s second-half effort which was deflected wide when freed by a lacklustre Gary Roberts.

And no airtime for Curtis Main, who pepped up Pompey’s attack when replacing Smith.

He couldn’t divert Naismith’s cross into the net, though, as time ticked down when he threw his body into the six-yard box.

Still, there’s a huge debate for Cook now about who starts at Morecambe in that role.

To show faith in Smith or risk denting a potentially brittle confidence by removing him from the firing line?

To give Main a go or free the poachers, Noel Hunt and Conor Chaplin? Or to provide Smith with attacking assistance?

What isn’t up for question is the universal concern for Jack Whatmough today.

The sight of Whatmough clutching his knee after a second-half challenge, and then limping from the field, placed a dark cloud over the day which superseded any interpretation of performance.

And the fears deepened about the condition of the cruciate knee ligament in his left knee, after he made his way back south on crutches and in a knee brace with chairman Iain McInnes as chauffeur.

And all of that after a performance which showed Whatmough was well and truly back.

He defended with authority at the right times, headed emphatically and assuredly, passed with culture and broke forward with grace. Jack Whatmough 2.0.

After the pain, toil and tears of his arduous recovery from his last fight with a career-threatening injury we await the result of his scan with royal-blue best wishes - and no little trepidation.

‘It doesn’t look a good injury,’ was Cook’s assessment, as he tried to balance dealing with inevitable questions on the subject with Whatmough’s family foremost in his mind’s eye.

Thoughts for the Gosport lad will linger as Pompey remain in the north as they prepare for Morecambe.

The result there will afford a modicum of context to the early-season form guide.

So, in Olympic terms, no Super Saturday for Cook’s men. Far from it. But striking gold at the Globe tomorrow will confirm a sturdy start.