Pompey 1 Bury 0 – Neil Allen’s match report

Matt Clarke scores Pompey's winner against Bury Picture: Joe Pepler
Matt Clarke scores Pompey's winner against Bury Picture: Joe Pepler
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Perhaps the scoreline was whimsically romantic, yet there was nothing poetic about its structure.

A 1-0 Pompey triumph represented familiar territory during the present regime’s ongoing metamorphoses into play-off contenders.

The smothering of Bury signified a fifth such slender outcome during a run which has now yielded seven victories in the last eight matches.

A fitting result to also accompany the returns of two key components in much-celebrated modern Pompey history.

Svetoslav Todorov’s iconic leap into the Fratton end more than 14 years ago entered folklore, his matchwinner in the 1-0 triumph over Burnley securing promotion to the Premier League.

On Saturday he returned to Fratton Park with six-year-old son Noa serving as mascot, to finally taste the Blues experience often relayed to him.

There was also the presence of Sol Campbell, back on the south coast for the first time since his summer of 2009 departure.

It was a surprise reunion engineered by a mutual friend connected with Eric Eisner, although not received as favourably as Todorov judging by the half-time reaction upon their entrance.

Still, Campbell memorably skippered the Blues to the 2008 FA Cup win over Cardiff, along with deposing Manchester United at Old Trafford during that epic journey. Both, of course, by 1-0 scorelines.

The weekend match against League One’s bottom club possessed a similar ring, yet purely in its conclusion rather than construction.

The clash was a turgid affair, played amid an atmosphere strangely muted despite the presence of 17,549 supporters in the final home encounter before Christmas.

Admittedly, the interval on-pitch introductions of Todorov and Campbell did lift the crowd, yet it was brief and soon subsided with the onset of the second half.

In fairness, there was precious little in the way of football to excite those gathered during a lacklustre fixture largely without of any semblance of festive joy.

Bury looked the strugglers they are, while the hosts couldn’t regain the fluency they demonstrated so impressively in the second half at Charlton.

Often unimaginative and missing a creative spark, it was a match which failed to excite and instantly slipped the mind.

The illustrious guests may have savoured their public return to Fratton Park – but not the football on offer during their stay.

Still, a win it was for Kenny Jackett’s men, surely the primary outcome in this continuing run which offers plenty of cheer for the year 2018.

His Blues side undoubtedly require an injection of goal-scoring potential, especially when Brett Pitman is not at the height of his powers, yet they have become stubbornly difficult to beat.

Not that the defence was ever threatened by Chris Lucketti’s side on Saturday, rendering Luke McGee nothing more than an interested onlooker.

However, that is now four matches without conceding in all competitions – and six clean sheets in eight fixtures.

The foundation has been assembled and now needs building upon during the January transfer window as Jackett strives to fine-tune the superb work so far.

Irrespective of the lack of style against the Shakers, the substance was another three points, an outcome fully deserved on the balance of play.

This is no free-scoring Pompey side, yet they have now established a regular and highly-effective back four free from injury and with the ever-excellent Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess at its heart.

Clarke, it would prove, was the match winner, with a 62nd minute header from Gareth Evans’ corner for the only goal of the game.

It was more than enough to see off the visitors in a match supporters would overwhelmingly have anticipated securing victory.

Jackett had made one change to the team which won at The Valley, with Kyle Bennett replacing Conor Chaplin behind Brett Pitman.

That alteration at half-time against Charlton had pepped the Blues up during that 1-0 success, earning Bennett at start.

There was also the welcome sight of Ben Close and Dion Donohue returning to the bench following injury, leaving only Oli Hawkins and Kal Naismith as short-term casualties.

During the first half, Danny Rose drew a stunning stop from Leo Fasan with a ferocious left-footed 30-yard drive.

Then, when a Jamal Lowe run culminated in the ball ricocheting into the path of Gareth Evans, Fasan swiftly raced off his line to block the midfielder’s shot.

They were timely interventions by the Italian, whose contribution in a game of few goal-scoring opportunities was going to be crucial.

Bury, rooted to the foot of League One despite extensive recruitment in the summer, offered very little in attack, particularly with ex-Pompey striker Michael Smith starting.

Not that it was his fault for a lack of service and, in a moment of class from the home faithful, earned a good reception when substituted in the 69th minute.

Pompey themselves had to make a change, albeit enforced through injury, with Close coming on for Stuart O’Keefe at the interval.

That tightened the grip on midfield, while the 60th minute introduction of Chaplin for the ineffective Bennett unquestionably brightened up the Blues in pursuit of victory.

The breakthrough arrived just two minutes later when Evans’ left-wing corner was headed home by the criminally unmarked Clarke.

It represented a second goal of the campaign for the outstanding 21-year-old – and the match winner.

Bury possessed no strength to haul themselves back on level terms, instead the hosts went seeking for a more emphatic scoreline.

However, Jackett’s men still couldn’t scrape up sufficient creativity to enhance that lead as they saw out the 1-0 success.

The win was comfortable, hardly inspired yet deserved and another to add to the recent flurry of victories since a run of four-successive defeats.

Todorov and Campbell would not have been enthralled by the quality of football, neither will this particular 1-0 triumph be remembered in excess of 14 years later.

But this Pompey side is daring to hint that more great memories lie in the future.