Oldham 0 Pompey 2 – Neil Allen’s match report

Brett Pitman marked his Pompey return with two goals against Oldham Picture: Joe Pepler
Brett Pitman marked his Pompey return with two goals against Oldham Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey aiming for place where normal business rules don’t apply

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The erratic weather encapsulated Pompey’s fitful campaign, yet a sunshine performance triumphed.

An afternoon at Boundary Park lurched from eye-stinging blizzards to blue skies bursting with dazzling smiles.

Four seasons in one day, as Kenny Jackett later branded the volatile climate changes which beset that particular area of Greater Manchester on Saturday.

Not even Brett Pitman, the grand old man at 30 in this fresh-faced side, had experienced such extraordinary playing conditions.

Ultimately, the second-half onslaught of snow offered considerably more menace than hosts Oldham towards depriving Kenny Jackett’s men of a timely victory.

And it was timely, do not underestimate that, following successive home defeats amid a rapidly-emptying Fratton Park and stream of final-whistle boos, some positivity was necessary.

Some had even gloomily forecast the Blues were not yet spared a League One relegation battle, such was the breakneck plummet in 2018.

In truth, such an outcome was even more unlikely than strutting into the play-offs, not that the former is a concern following the well-deserved 2-0 win over the Latics.

The Oldham players did their vocal best to deny, trumpeting pleas for the encounter to be scrapped on 62 minutes following the intervention of a brutal snowstorm.

Referee Seb Stockbridge halted proceedings to stage an impromptu on-pitch conflab with his fellow officials. Inevitably players and managers became embroiled, pursuing their wildly differing agendas.

Meanwhile, the home faithful, who had previously booed their side off at half-time, again found their voices to chant ‘Off, off, off’ in respect of a cancellation.

Crucially, the Tyne & Wear-based referee’s worries centred on the snow-influenced eradication of pitch markings, rather than the state of a playing surface which surely barely threatened anyone’s safety.

Meanwhile, Oldham boss Richie Wellens and his troops vehemently voiced alarm over their footballing vision being obscured by the driving conditions.

Coincidentally losing 2-0 at the time, their demands for an abandonment contrasted to those from the Pompey camp during a bewildering nine minutes of bickering, while there was inactivity from the Boundary Park groundstaff.

Luke McGee took it upon himself to free penalty-area lines from their snow imprisonment, via his water bottle and feet in an attempt to speed up the process.

Meanwhile, a member of the groundstaff stood on the touchline amid the uproar, with shovel in hand and demonstrating no inclination to busy himself constructively.

Eventually the referee’s insistence succeed in ending such procrastination and soon the match continued, moments later joined by the breakthrough of sunshine.

It represented the extinguishing of Oldham hopes of avoiding an inevitable defeat. Not even the intervention of Mother Nature could deprive the Blues.

As Pitman later admitted, Pompey would have probably performed similar antics if the situations had been swapped.

Jackett’s side have suffered horrendous injury problems this season, with a total of 22 different first-team players sidelined at various periods, but for once the sun was shining on him.

At the heart of the encouraging performance was Pitman, the first member of his present army of casualties to be nursed back into active duty.

The former Bournemouth man offered, age, experience, the leadership of a captain and, vitally, that striking class which eclipses so many of his League One contemporaries.

For the past month in particular, Jackett has been starved of options, his squad devoid of genuine competition and elder statesman know-how.

On Saturday he was able to make the big call to drop Christian Burgess – and throw his 15-goal leading scorer back into the attack.

Pitman struck twice in the opening 42 minutes in poacher fashion, handing the visitors only their third victory of 2018.

Indeed, the omission of Burgess represented the first time since his June 2015 arrival that he had been dropped from a Pompey starting XI.

However, the return to fitness of Jack Whatmough to provide centre-half competition had persuaded Jackett to bench the out-of-sorts 26-year-old.

Instead Whatmough and Matt Clarke formed the centre-halves in a back two also consisting of Brandon Haunstrup and Anton Walkes – each aged 21.

As a team, the Blues defended magnificently, particularly in ailing conditions, providing the platform for a maiden clean sheet in 16 fixtures. It had been a wait of three months and two days.

Ditching the wing-back system, Jackett had opted for what he termed a 4-3-3 system – and the result marked successive away victories.

Saturday was also Connor Ronan’s finest 90 minutes for the Blues since his loan arrival, an impressive display which included the delivery for Pompey’s opener on 29 minutes

The youngster put in a cross from the right and Pitman timed his jump to perfection, leaping before Brian Wilson to steer a header into the far corner.

The Blues doubled their advantage on 42 minutes following Wilson’s backpass to Johny Placide.

The goalkeeper had looked shaky on other occasions when the ball had been knocked back, at one stage Ronan dispossessing him earlier in the half but unable to capitalise.

For this instance, Placide kicked the ball straight at the onrushing Pitman, whose first shot was parried by the grounded keeper, only for the striker to them slide it left-footed into the empty net from a tight angle.

There was no coming back for the hosts, whose support made their feelings known at the arrival of half-time, with a number of boos.

Oldham had two key opportunities, however, firstly Eoin Doyle sliding Craig Davies’ pass straight at McGee in the first-half from eight-yards out.

On 77 minutes, the keeper produced a stunning finger-tip stop to somehow deny the ex-Pompey loanee from the right.

Then Jamal Lowe was thwarted by the inside of the far past during 11 minutes of stoppage time.

But they were not to be denied by that Boundary Park blizzard.