Pompey 1-2 Walsall

Izale McLeod scores Pompey's only goal of the game against Walsall
Izale McLeod scores Pompey's only goal of the game against Walsall
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Pompey's Adam May wins a header. Picture: Mark Robinson

Gaffer brands Pompey opponents ‘absolutely appalling’

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Pompey remain entrenched in administration, the pain still to subside.

Yet on Saturday a stark reminder of the previous brush with liquidation was there for all to see.

And how Florent Cuvelier made Michael Appleton’s side suffer.

It was barely two-and-a-half years ago when the inspiration behind a second successive Fratton Park league defeat for the Blues was on the club’s books.

Spotted in his native Belgium by Mark Kelly, the midfielder had long been earmarked as a star in the making, featuring in the occasional reserve fixture.

Then came administration, disillusionment and subsequent departure.

Cuvelier’s father took him out of Paul Smalley’s Academy in April 2010 with 12 months still on his contract, eager for a new place to serve his footballing education.

Eventually, Stoke snapped him up, with the Blues receiving a fee via a tribunal ruling.

These days Cuvelier is 20 years of age and currently resides at Walsall on loan.

He is continuing to develop at a highly-encouraging pace.

For Pompey, truly one that got away, he was a needless loss during an era when there have been too many casualties.

To think those who have contributed so much to the past two administrations in the form of Sulaiman Al Fahim and Portpin are still battling for a return, equipped with the usual promises.

In the meantime, the club is limping along while it awaits the ownership situation to be resolved.

Another week, another deadline, another former owner interested, another rumour of a mysterious consortium also eyeing a buy out.

And the likes of Cuvelier is continuing to make life difficult on the pitch following another tremendously disappointing result in a match Pompey fans would have been expecting something from.

No question about it, as perennial relegation strugglers, the Saddlers’ arrival would have been earmarked as a match to provide that first Fratton Park league win of the season.

As it was, Dean Smith’s side ran out deserved winners – and in a manner completely different to the negative approach of previous victors Oldham.

Considering Pompey’s on-going predicament, it was perhaps fitting then that the opposition’s star man should be Cuvelier.

Last season it was the cultured youngster’s goal which kept Walsall in League One in the penultimate game.

This time around he is leading them into a play-off position, albeit still very early in the campaign.

Against Pompey, Cuvelier prompted Smith’s side from deep, dictating play and pulling all the strings, particularly during the second half.

Ultimately, his 63rd-minute sublime strike from distance would also prove to be the matchwinner in a fixture the visitors undoubtedly deserved to win.

Had it not been for the crossbar late on, Jamie Paterson would have given the Saddlers a more emphatic scoreline from their trip to Fratton Park.

Worryingly, there remains an absence of creativity from Pompey’s play at present – a concern once again glaringly absent on Saturday.

Izale McLeod’s smart finish provided a consolation and takes his tally to three goals in seven matches since his summer arrival.

Nonetheless, he has yet to convince the Fratton faithful.

Likewise, Luke Rodgers has precisely the same return. Although, his performance levels have, on the whole, been higher than his strike partner.

Appleton is hoping to bring in another forward on loan before tomorrow’s visit of Swindon, with Jordan Obita also back from suspension to increase competition in such positions.

Not that the strikers can be blamed for the lack of opportunities which fell their way against Walsall.

Their team-mates must certainly shoulder the burden for that.

Granted, the football was good at times, tidy, constructive and with attacking intentions.

But Pompey continue to struggle with providing that final ball in the last third of the field and, once again, that was glaringly obvious against the Saddlers.

At the other end of the pitch, Kevin Long’s first-half injury ensured another defensive re-jig, with Darel Russell dropping back rather than new recruit Lubomir Michalik coming off the bench.

Appleton afterwards described it as the ‘curse of the central defender’.

It certainly didn’t help the side maintain its stability in what has become a problematic position.

For the time being Pompey fans have seen the last of Long, whose loan will not be renewed in a bid to allow the club to bring in another striker.

Early in the season admittedly, however, there are mild headaches for Appleton all over the pitch at present – let’s not forget off it as well.

It was Walsall who had the best chance in an opening 45 minutes which was generally short of goal-scoring opportunities for either side.

In the 36th minute George Bowerman got free down the right and pulled the ball back for Paterson, whose fierce first-time shot was brilliantly pushed around the post by Mikkel Andersen.

The sum of Pompey’s chances were a couple of Brian Howard efforts from distance which crept just wide and Russell’s deflected drive from outside the box.

At the start of the second half David Grof superbly blocked McLeod at point-blank range following a flowing move down the left, only for the linesman’s flag to have been raised anyway.

Then in the 56th minute Mustapha Dumbuya was left on the floor following a tangle with Ashley Hemmings and the Walsall man squared for James Baxendale to lash home from outside the box.

Just seven minutes later Walsall made it 2-0 when a free-kick was not cleared and Cuvelier steered a first-time left-foot shot from 25 yards into the bottom corner of the net.

Pompey did pull one back in the 69th minute to raise hopes of a grandstand finish, but Grof was not to be tested for the remainder of the game.

Consecutive below-par league performances at Fratton have now resulted in two defeats.

Swindon visit tomorrow, with Pompey still seeking a first league home win of the season.

The likelihood is there will be another new central-defensive partnership and at least one more debut.

Then again, the key battle to win at present lies with the on-going ownership issue.

Another Cuvelier cannot be allowed to slip from Pompey’s grasp.