Fleetwood 1 Pompey 2: Neil Allen’s match report

Jamal Lowe fires Pompey ahead. Picture: Mark Robinson
Jamal Lowe fires Pompey ahead. Picture: Mark Robinson
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Jackett’s Juniors produced a seasoned performance to both defy their years and a torturous 2018.

When Pompey last night unveiled a starting line-up with an average age of 22.5 years, there were rightly concerns over the shortage of experience.

Oli Hawkins nets Pompey's second goal. Picture: Mark Robinson

Oli Hawkins nets Pompey's second goal. Picture: Mark Robinson

Skippered by 21-year-old Matt Clarke, it resembled a Premier League Cup under-23 line-up rather than a League One encounter at Fleetwood.

Nonetheless, Kenny Jackett’s youngsters dug in magnificently to secure only a second win of the calendar year, in addition to providing delicious hope for the Blues’ future.

Granted, substitute Conor McAleny’s stunning strike nine minutes from full-time initiated a frantic finale from absolutely nowhere.

However, up until that point the visitors controlled proceedings at Highbury Stadium and were fully worth a 2-0 lead conjured up through the brilliance of Jamal Lowe.

Returned to the right flank, the winger opened the scoring on 24 minutes with a curling left-foot shot from inside the box.

In the second half, Adam May struck the inside of the far post with – what would have been – a contender for goal of the season before Oli Hawkins tapped home from close range on 75 minutes after Lowe’s cross had been parried.

Once McAleny had cut that lead in half, Pompey had to negotiate the remaining nine minutes plus four added on but they did so successfully through grit and determination.

It was a vital win for Jackett’s men, especially considering the make-up of a squad which featured 26-year-old Christian Burgess as the most senior.

In addition, the substitutes’ bench contained five players who have emerged through the Blues’ Academy, including current youth-teamer Dan Smith.

Jackett’s youthful selection had, of course, been influenced by the absence of the banned Nathan Thompson, along with injured duo Brett Pitman and Gareth Evans from the side which lost at Southend last weekend.

In addition, a groin injury collected in training sidelined Kal Naismith.

There was, however, the encouraging sight of Jack Whatmough among the substitutes, following five months out with knee ligament damage.

Not that the defender was needed to appear as youthful Pompey saw out their victory in battling fashion.

When the match got under way, it was Fleetwood’s Bobby Grant who provided the first attempt on goal – a left-footed shot from 25 yards which flew well wide.

At the other end, Conor Chaplin’s effort from long range took a deflection and looped harmlessly into the arms of keeper Alex Cairns.

There was little in the way of goalmouth action in the early exchanges, with Kyle Dempsey the next to try his luck from outside the box with a left-footed attempt which went wide.

On 21 minutes, Burgess fouled Ashley Hunter down Fleetwood’s left, 25 yards from goal.

And his free-kick eventually found a way to Ashley Eastham, whose header was straight at Luke McGee.

Similarly, moments later, Cairns was drawn into action when Lowe teed up May from the right and the youngster’s low shot from the edge of the area was stopped by the keeper.

However, on 24 minutes the deadlock was broken through Lowe.

Ben Close’s shot was blocked and the ball fell kindly inside the box to Lowe, who curled a delightful left-footed first-time shot into the far corner of the net.

In the Blues’ next attack, Chaplin drew a foul and Kennedy’s resulting free-kick from 25 yards was taken by the diving Cairns at his near post.

Fleetwood were not suggesting they could respond to falling a goal behind and when Dion Donohue fizzed in a dangerous cross from the left, Cian Bolger arrived just ahead of Chaplin to clear.

Pompey went in at the break with their lead intact and shortly after the restart Donohue’s swinging cross from the left was put behind by Bolger with Hawkins lurking at the far post.

From the resulting corner from the right, the ball struck a Fleetwood player and appeared to be heading for the net for an own goal before it was scrambled off the line.

However, the Cod Army were already suggesting they could be a more potent attacking outfit and Hunter drove a low shot from outside the box a whisker past the left-hand post as they grew in confidence.

On 53 minutes, Lowe drove in a low cross from the right, which flashed across the face of goal begging for a final touch which never arrived.

Then Hawkins juggled the ball before connecting with a right-foot shot which flashed just over the bar.

The visitors began to steadily seize the initiative as they attempted to add to the first-half goal which was so far separating the sides at Highbury Stadium.

Close was the next to go near to doubling their advantage – driving a right-foot shot past the far post which was far closer than perhaps Cairns appreciated as he let it fly by.

The Blues came agonisingly close to grabbing that second goal when May struck an absolute beauty from 30 yards.

But his right-footed shot smacked against the inside of the far post and bounced out to Fleetwood’s relief.

The youngster could only hold his head in frustration as what would have been a maiden Pompey goal just eluded him.

On 75 minutes, the Blues did make it 2-0 through Hawkins.

Chaplin found Lowe’s surge into the box down the right and when his low cross was parried by the keeper, Hawkins was on hand to tap it in from a few yards out.

Moments later, Fleetwood substitute Wes Burns crossed from the right and Hunter’s flying header fizzed past the far post with McGee surely beaten.

Pompey made their first substitution on 78 minutes, with Connor Ronan replacing Chaplin and operating behind Hawkins.

Yet the Cod Army put themselves back in the game on 81 minutes.

Substitute McAleny struck a magnificent right-footed shot from 25 yards into the far top corner, giving Pompey keeper McGee no chance.

The Blues responded through Hawkins’ flying shot, which had Cairns leaping across the home side’s goal to push away acrobatically.

The finale was tense but the Blues held Fleetwood at bay to secure a welcome 2-1 triumph.