Coventry 0 Portsmouth 1: Neil Allen’s match report

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An Irishman ruled the Ricoh Arena, yet it was not Michael Doyle dominating proceedings.

Instead Ronan Curtis lit up last night’s encounter as Pompey’s former skipper was put in the shade.

Ronan Curtis, right, celebrates his Pompey match-winner at Coventry with Jamal Lowe. Picture: Phillip Oldham

Ronan Curtis, right, celebrates his Pompey match-winner at Coventry with Jamal Lowe. Picture: Phillip Oldham

It was a fixture which offered a reunion with Doyle, the man who lead them to the League Two title.

Such has been the Blues’ evolution since his May 2017 departure, this present squad now appear genuinely equipped to challenge for another promotion.

And it was Republic of Ireland under-21 international Curtis who settled matters in their favour.

The 22-year-old picked up Brett Pitman’s intelligent headed pass and cut inside to finish right footed in the far bottom corner.

Arriving in first-half stoppage-time, it was enough to determine the destiny of the match and strengthen Pompey’s lead at League One’s summit.

Certainly Kenny Jackett’s men were comfortable throughout, irrespective of the narrow reflection of such a 1-0 scoreline.

Spurred on by the outstanding Nathan Thompson and the gutsy Tom Naylor, the visitors dug in during the second half to safely usher home victory.

Joy then for the 1,961 away followers, who resurrected promotion songs initially borne during Doyle’s spell with the club.

In fact, Coventry’s skipper had been joined in last night’s starting XI by Tom Davies and Dominic Hyam, also present at Fratton Park during that successful 2016-17 promotion campaign.

Mark Robins’ side, though, lacked the cutting edge to truly trouble Craig MacGillivray, despite plenty of pressure through possession in the second half.

As the Fratton faithful know too well, this Jackett team can defend – and they kept the hosts at bay outside the penalty area to restrict potential dangerous situations.

The consequence was the unbeaten league run stretched into 11 games – and their cushion at the top of League One increased to three points.

While the Irish champion of Pompey’s past could only admire a potential Irish champion of the future.

Jackett had named an unchanged side for the Ricoh Arena clash, retaining the team which won 3-1 at Rochdale on Saturday.

The sole alteration to the match-day 18 was Anton Walkes replacing Christian Burgess on the bench.

Meanwhile, Dion Donohue and Andre Green again missed out through injury, while Danny Rose continues to be out of favour.

Coventry included three former Pompey players in their starting line-up, but Conor Chaplin was not granted permission.

Under terms of the loan deal which is scheduled to become permanent in January, the striker could not feature against, effectively, his parent club.

However, Doyle, Davies and Hyam were all named in Mark Robins’ side, with Liam O’Brien on the bench as substitute goalkeeper.

It took Doyle just two minutes into the occasion to be pulled up for a foul, bringing down Nathan Thompson 30 yards from goal in a central position.

That free-kick was taken by Brett Pitman, yet he wastefully hammered his effort into the wall and the ball was comfortably cleared.

The Blues should have taken the lead on six minutes when a fine move initiated by a Gareth Evans tackle saw Thompson find possession down the right.

He pulled the ball back into the centre of the penalty area and in rushed Ben Close who side-footed a first-time shot wide when he should have scored.

Naylor earned a booking for a strong challenge on Luke Thomas on 29 minutes, which left the midfielder writhing on the floor in agony.

An uncharacteristic slip from Matt Clarke then gifted Jonson Clarke-Harris a path through on goal, but Craig MacGillivray rushed out to brilliantly block, before then smothering the ball.

At the other end, Thompson cut in from the right and fired a low left-footed shot which was comfortably taken by Lee Burge.

With half-time approaching, Lee Brown drove in a shot from the left which took a deflection for a corner, with Clarke heading over Evans’ flag kick.

Yet the deadlock was broken in first-half stoppage-time through Curtis.

Evans started it, dispossessing Doyle, with Close then picking up the move and crossing the ball towards Pitman.

Pompey’s skipper cleverly headed it back to Curtis who cut inside, took several touches and then curled a right-footed finish into the far bottom corner.

The Sky Blues made a change at the break, with Jordon Thompson introduced for Hyam.

Immediately, Curtis’ cross from the left was met with an Evans header which took a nick and deflected away from the target.

Close made way for Thompson on 69 minutes in an attempt to tighten matters up, with Coventry beginning to get a foothold.

Yet the hosts continued to threaten, particularly through substitute Jodi Jones, as they started to dominate possession, albeit without challenging MacGillivray.

There was a chance for Lowe to seal the result on 81 minutes, but he lashed a shot comfortably over the bar from the edge of the box.

Next Ben Thompson fired in a swerving right-footed effort which flew straight at Burge, who had to take the ball at the second attempt.

With Coventry stretching, gaps were appearing at the back and, in the Blues’ latest foray, Lowe bustled through and curled a left-foot shot narrowly wide of the far post.

During four minutes of time added on, a Doyle free-kick from the left couldn’t be taken by MacGillivray and Naylor was on hand to crash the ball off the line.

It was to be a final scare as a foul on Curtis brought out the opportunity for the Blues to slow the game down.

But soon the final whistle signalled with yet another victory for the League One leaders.