Pompey 1 Luton 0 '“ Neil Allen's match report

Kenny Jackett's application of smoke and mirrors fooled all over Jamal Lowe's injury.

Sunday, 5th August 2018, 12:32 am
Updated Friday, 31st August 2018, 5:16 pm
Pompey defender Jack Whatmough in action against Luton yesterday Picture: Andrew Fosker

He then demonstrated a remarkable sleight of hand to conjure up an improbable outcome against Luton.

A footballing deception was served up at Fratton Park '“ not that anyone was under any illusion.

Those present among Saturday's 19,018 crowd could recognise a certain injustice over Pompey's subsequent 1-0 triumph.

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Pompey defender Jack Whatmough in action against Luton yesterday Picture: Andrew Fosker

It was as glaring as the August sunshine which smothered the south coast on a golden-gated entrance into the League One season.

A perplexed Nathan Jones afterwards declared he had never been so pleased with a side's performance in defeat. Luton's boss had a thunderous point.

Not that the Fratton faithful will be offering messages of condolence or lighting candles in silent tribute, football does not operate on such levels of empathy.

Fortuitous it may have been, nonetheless a positive '“ if flawed '“ opening result to a campaign which realistically can yield at least play-off qualification.

Jamal Lowe's 16th-minute effort handed Pompey victory

Perhaps dwelling on Pompey's failings deflects from their impressive resilience, heart and defensive might. After all, reasons exist behind Saturday's clean sheet.

For any defects as an attacking force and inability to use possession effectively, the hosts were magnificent at the back throughout the encounter against Jones' often-rampant side.

Marshalled superbly by Jack Whatmough and Matt Clarke, staging their own personal battle to seize the man-of-the-match accolade, it was an often wondrous rearguard action.

Granted, the inside of the far post deprived Alan Sheehan in the first half, while the underside of the bar thwarted James Collins during the second.

Yet a Blues defence, featuring debutant Craig MacGillivray behind, admirably stood firm in the face of relentless waves of attacks from the visitors. It was gutsy and unmistakably heartening.

Kenny Jackett has previously raised the alarm over 20 defeats in last term's League One, concerning statistics despite an eighth-placed outcome and five points adrift of the play-offs.

As he seeks to tighten up Pompey defensively, there was enough early encouragement provided by their Hatters turn.

Certainly summer recruit MacGillivray enjoyed his introduction, with several solid saves, particularly in the second half, to relieve the escalating tension.

The Shrewsbury recruit was one of four new-boys, joining Lee Brown, Tom Naylor and Ronan Curtis in the side, while Anton Walkes made his second debut following his permanent arrival.

Walkes, operating in a central midfielder role, struggled to impose himself, lasting 60 minutes before withdrawn with a degree of inevitability in favour of Ben Close.

The other pre-season signings can, however, be delighted with their contributions in a winning start to life at Fratton Park.

It was Curtis, so impressive against FC Utrecht the previous weekend, who would lay on the game's only goal.

On 16 minutes, he latched onto the ball following Sheehan's slip down the right and pulled a cross back from the byline, which was steered home by Lowe with a first-team left-footed finish from eight yards.

Ah yes, Lowe. The player who, on Monday, was declared by Jackett to be sidelined for up to three weeks following an ankle ligament problem sustained against FC Utrecht.

Consultation with the fixture list threw up a period of likely absence spanning four matches. As it turned out, the influential winger missed two training sessions.

Pompey's boss was afterwards coy when asked about the deliberately-invoked public pretence. '˜Don't believe everything you read in the papers,' he responded in familiar deadpan delivery.

Nonetheless, it represents the first time during his Fratton reign that Jackett has wilfully used such mind games ahead of a fixture.

Whether Lowe's Lazarus-like re-emergence into the Blues' first-team threw Luton off keel is indeterminable '“ yet it shocked those of Fratton persuasion.

Fitting then that the player not meant to be present established himself as the match-winner, in addition to surviving the full 90 minutes without so much as a limp.

That 16th-minute contribution arrived during a period when Pompey threatened most, probably their finest spell of the game,

Afterwards, Luton grappled control, restricting the hosts to a counter-attacking input, constructed upon the tireless Curtis' boundless willingness to pursue.

Pompey struggled to break from their own half as Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu flashed a shot narrowly wide, while Sheehan's 37th-minute free-kick from the right struck the inside of the far post.

The half-time whistle would have been embraced by the Blues players, also signalling Brett Pitman's departure in a tactical switch.

Provided little service, the skipper was sacrificed at the interval for Oli Hawkins to establish more of an attacking focal point.

However, Luton continued to dominate and on the hour mark should have claimed an equaliser.

Lowe was caught in possession by Elliot Lee and when the ball was slipped inside to James Collins on the left, his powerful first-time shot struck the underside of the bar.

Next, Harry Cornick found space down the right and his shot was superbly parried by the onrushing MacGillivray.

Moments earlier, Close had been introduced for Walkes from the bench in an effect to retain possession better, a decision which did have an impact.

Yet Luton maintained their pressure, incessantly attacking the Milton End which housed their 2,392 travelling faithful, while the Blues relied on breaking scraps to threaten.

Jackett's men stood firm, though, Whatmough a towering presence in the defensive heart, admirably assisted by Clarke.

Not even the necessity to throw on Christian Burgess to serve at right-back in place of the injured Nathan Thompson could unravel the Blues.

So a win. Largely undeserved and harsh on Luton, yet Jackett had pulled something out of the hat.