Aldershot 0-1 Pompey

Izale McLeod lifts the ball over Shots keeper Jamie Young to seal a 1-0 victory for Pompey
Izale McLeod lifts the ball over Shots keeper Jamie Young to seal a 1-0 victory for Pompey
Theo Widdrington. Picture: Joe Pepler

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The Recreation Ground provided a glimpse of the future and a reflection on the past.

It just remains to be seen if Pompey fans still have a club to follow before the fuse runs out in eight days time.

Aldershot represented Michael Appleton’s squad’s first pre-season friendly in England and another opportunity for the boss to cast his eye over triallists.

Potential recruits, possible new Fratton favourites, in theory the backbone of what the Blues manager wants to achieve over the next few years.

But it was the much-maligned Tal Ben Haim who was to occupy most of the 1,053 away following’s focus, particularly in the first half.

Named in the starting line-up in the centre of defence, the Israeli certainly felt the full force of fans’ anger every time he touched the ball.

Songs ranged from the unprintable to ‘Get out of our club’ towards a player who has still to reach a compromise agreement over his departure, which would help the club avoid the possibility of liquidation.

Even some supporters sat in the Aldershot end, their allegiance unclear, booed him during the second half when playing on their side of the ground.

Appleton certainly had no qualms about selecting a player – along with Liam Lawrence – with absolutely no future with the Blues.

Lawrence, himself, was not the target of such a backlash from the stands and was named as skipper for the clash with the League Two side.

Then again, Pompey expect to sell him over the coming days to further reduce their problematic wage bill.

Meanwhile, the third member of the remaining high-earning senior pros, Dave Kitson, watched from the stands as his compromised exit nears.

The 1-0 victory, though, was not merely centred on those players the club are desperate to remove from their premises.

A cool finish from Izale McLeod provided a hint of what is to come from the former Barnet striker.

His signature is ready to go, his free transfer move on pause, the scene is set for a possible new goalscoring hero at Fratton Park.

Except the club’s current situation continues to prohibit the striker from signing – along with a lengthening queue of others.

Still, in the seventh minute, Luke Rodgers prodded the ball through and McLeod galloped down the middle, before clipping a shot over the advancing Jamie Young.

The ball seemed to take an age to enter the net.

But it was perfectly struck and perfectly timed to give the visitors the lead.

Unquestionably, it was the most encouraging McLeod performance to date, having struggled to shine on the pre-season tour to Spain and Gibraltar.

Nonetheless, a piece of finishing class was enough to separate the sides last night and suggest to the Fratton faithful they may have a player on their hands.

There were certainly enough new faces on display for the large travelling support to take in on a dry Aldershot evening.

In the starting line-up alone were three newcomers – players who were not part of the recent training camp in Spain.

With keeper Simon Eastwood watching from the stands, former Southend shot-stopper Glenn Morris was named in goal.

Kosovan defender Agonit Sallaj started in the centre of defence, alongside Ben Haim, who was also making his first appearance of the summer.

The other new boy was former Crystal Palace and AFC Wimbledon man Kieran Djalili, who occupied the right wing.

Meanwhile, Lawrence was selected in the centre of midfield alongside Brian Howard, who had previously set an August 1 deadline to decide his own future.

There were also starts for teenagers Adam Webster and Ashley Harris, while fit-again Rodgers partnered McLeod in attack.

Over on the bench, the likes of Josh Thompson and Jack Compton were new names – the latter a former Fratton Park apprentice.

Thompson, a defender, has been on the books of Celtic in recent years and played for Chesterfield on loan last season.

All would get their opportunity in the match, with Appleton using 16 players in total.

In a match generally of few opportunities, McLeod’s early strike would ultimately prove to be the most decisive move of all.

He and Rodgers formed a far-more effective attacking partnership than they showed in Gibraltar – a match which the former picked up an injury in and didn’t feature again on the tour.

At the other end, Morris was tested with several shots from distance – on one instance producing a superb finger-tip save to deny Craig Stanley.

Yet, overall, the ex-Southend keeper struggled to deal with high balls and his fumbling of a Josh Payne shot almost gifted the hosts an equaliser.

Aldershot also went close in the 38th minute when another Payne free-kick, this time from the right, skidded through the penalty area and Peter Vincenti narrowly failed to get a touch.

After the break saw the introduction of Danny Hilton for Dean Holdsworth’s side, and he wasted a glorious opportunity to level.

Morris couldn’t collect a high cross into the box and the ball fell for Hylton to somehow send a snap shot over a gaping goal from inside the area.

The keeper almost gifted Aldershot a winner in stoppage-time when he attempted to clip a ball over the advancing Guy Madjo, only for it to ricochet off the striker.

But he got lucky as the Aldershot man couldn’t capitalise.

As the final whistle sounded, the Pompey fans remained in fine, fine voice.

Let’s all hope there is a future for them and, with the greatest of respect, no future for Ben Haim, Lawrence and Kitson at Fratton Park.