A reality check for Portsmouth as Irish star is missed

Ronan Curtis missed Saturday's draw with Shrewsbury because of his international commitments with the Republic of Ireland  Picture: Joe Pepler
Ronan Curtis missed Saturday's draw with Shrewsbury because of his international commitments with the Republic of Ireland Picture: Joe Pepler
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Pompey writer Jordan Cross looks back on Saturday’s meeting with Shrewsbury to see what we learnt from the 1-1 draw with the strugglers.

Wake-up Call

Oli Hawkins impressed in a combative battle with Shrewsbury on Saturday. Picture: Joe Pepler

Oli Hawkins impressed in a combative battle with Shrewsbury on Saturday. Picture: Joe Pepler

The pre-match talk of Pompey being billed as ‘hot favourites’ to dispatch Shrewsbury set the alarm bells ringing.

The winless Shrews against the unbeaten pacesettters had the pundits tipping the match to be a home banker.

Of course, it proved to be anything but the case.

John Askey set his side up to be difficult to break down as he packed the middle of the park and asked Pompey to open them up.

It was something Kenny Jackett’s men failed to do as they neglected to get the ball into wide areas where the space existed.

Anthony Grant sat in front of a robust and physically strong back four and broke up play, allowing the visitors to grow in confidence.

Pompey were better after the break with David Wheeler pepping things up after he replaced Andre Green, but still couldn’t eke out clear efforts - with Gareth Evans’ 65th-minute header, which was well saved by Joel Coleman, the best of it.

With Pompey flying at Fratton Park before the weekend, it’s clear there are going to be plenty of sides who replicate Shrewsbury’s approach this term.

There was confidence there’s attacking prowess is in place to combat such approach, but this result served as a wake-up call to anyone believing the Blues are good enough to brush aside such determined rearguard efforts with ease.

Hold-up Hawkins

There weren’t a wealth of man-of-the-match contenders as Pompey underperformed on Saturday.

Which made Oli Hawkins’ display against Shrewsbury stand out a mile.

The powerhouse striker recovered from a hamstring niggle to take his place up front as Kenny Jackett made three changes to the team who put Plymouth to the sword - all of them enforced.

And the manner in which he led the line spoke of a player now getting to grips with what’s required to be a successful target man at this level.

The 6ft 5in man’s hold-up play was immense against a powerful Shrewsbury defence.

In fact, before failing to get enough purchase on a second-half pass after some fine play he didn’t put a foot wrong.

One moment when he ran 50 yards to win a throw off Mat Sadler spoke of the kind of never-say-die attitude we associated with a Pompey striking great in Guy Whittingham.

There were few of the unnecessary fouls conceded we’ve seen at times this term, too, with a couple of the decisions he was pulled up on harsh.

Pulling the ball out of the air on a number of occasions and linking with those behind him impressed.

Of course he will want the end product strikers crave, but those who can’t see what Hawkins offers his team are blind to a thriving all-round game.

Curtis Chat

Ronan Curtis managed to improve his standing with Pompey fans in his absence on Saturday.

With five goals and three assists, the summer arrival from Derry City has been the early-season star for his new club.

But a call-up for the Republic of Ireland under-21 squad robbed Kenny Jackett of his influential wide man for Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy win over Gillingham and Saturday’s game.

The initial disappointment at that news morphed into quiet confidence Pompey had the players to deal with his absence, in the shape of new loanees Andre Green and David Wheeler.

Green was the man given the nod to start on the left for the second game, but failed to produce a performance to match his promising status.

The 20-year-old couldn’t get into the match, although it could be said Pompey failed to feed the Aston Villa man in a first half where Shrewsbury threw a blanket of bodies across the midfield battleground.

Wheeler was introduced after the restart and did much to pep up the Blues with some hard and direct running.

Some early runs were ended illegally before the QPR man’s harrying forced Josh Emmanuel to clear against Anthony Grant, but he couldn’t quite get enough purchase on his shot.

Wheeler advanced his claims for a starting spot with Green showing patience may be needed with him over the next few weeks.

And, of course, after his impressive strike for his country’s under-21 side against Kosovo on Friday night we’re were all talking about Curtis again anyway...