Pompey 1 Scunthorpe 1 – Neil Allen’s match report

Connor Ronan impressed on his maiden League start for Pompey Picture: Joe Pepler
Connor Ronan impressed on his maiden League start for Pompey Picture: Joe Pepler
Former Pompey loanee Ryan Fulton. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey v Oxford: where are they now?

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It won’t work, they cried. Others branded it ‘odd’, ‘crazy’ ‘weird’ and a ‘monstrosity’.

On the event of his 34th competitive match in charge, Kenny Jackett sprang upon the Fratton faithful the most alarming team selection of his reign.

Otherwise labelled by one supporter on Twitter as ‘reminding me a little bit of picking teams on the school playground for lunchtime footy’.

Yet to an extent Jackett’s shock break from convention was a success, strengthening his growing regard among Blues followers.

Certainly nobody outside the inner sanctum could possibly have anticipated the innovative reconstructing of his Pompey line-up.

Nathan Thompson later voiced his belief that Scunthorpe had also been skittled by surprise, culminating in the hosts’ first-half dominance.

The fact the right-back was asked to serve as a central midfielder and subsequently conjured up a man-of-the-match display merely reflected the unpredictable nature of the occasion.

Pompey’s boss had unveiled a bold gameplan designed to overcome an in-form Scunthorpe side parading one defeat in their previous 13 league encounters.

The 4-2-3-1 steadfastly employed by the manager was ripped up in favour of three centre-halves, two wing-backs and a twin strikeforce.

The outcome was a 1-1 draw. Alas, not the triumph to add a touch of romanticism to this tale of defying routine. However, plenty of positives to justify the sweeping changes.

Of course, nobody should not be criticised for pre-match scepticism when studying the contents of Jackett’s starting line-up. They had an excellent point.

The sole previous occasion he had switched to a 3-5-2 was a home clash with Rotherham in September, ending in a deeply disappointing 1-0 defeat.

Earlier in the campaign, Pompey’s manager had toyed with introducing the system on a more regular basis, yet was hampered by injury, particularly in the cases of Thompson and Tareiq Holmes-Dennis.

Instead he retained the formation so successful under Paul Cook and one reassuringly familiar to the players he inherited.

It has enabled the Blues to reach the play-off reckoning, entering the visit of Scunthorpe in sixth place to stoke up ambitions of successive promotion campaigns.

Then Jackett delivered his selection curveball.

Thompson and Ben Close’s availability was regarded as 50/50, having been forced off with injury during the midweek Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Chelsea under-21s.

As it was, both were able to continue, with changes made elsewhere.

Oli Hawkins, with three goals in his last two League One appearances as a striker, was moved back to the centre of defence, forming a three-man unit.

Dion Donohue and Jamal Lowe were asked to serve as wing-backs, with Thompson moved into the centre of midfield to partner Close.

There was a maiden league start for Wolves loanee Connor Ronan, while fit-again Kal Naismith partnered Brett Pitman in attack.

Preparation for the system had consisted of two training sessions, while several players had been instructed to operate in positions not accustomed to them in Pompey colours.

No wonder many Blues followers were baffled upon glimpsing the team at its customary 2pm announcement.

Yet fears of a negative result as a consequence proved unfounded as Jackett’s new-look structure earned a point and demonstrated plenty of quality in the process.

Perhaps both sides would have accepted the 1-1 outcome before kick off, nonetheless it was a fair scoreline with Pompey the better side in the first half and the visitors claiming the second period.

Curiously it represented only a third league draw of the campaign for the Blues – and the first since the 1-1 result at Wigan in August.

And for that opening 45 minutes, the system change produced flourishing football at times from the hosts, with Ronan a delicious presence.

The teenage talent was simply a joy to watch, demonstrating a nimble touch, quick feet and instinctive attacking traits not checked by fear of failure.

There was even applause from the Fratton faithful on eight minutes following a superb piece of skill in front of the North stand touchline to retain possession.

During his Checkatrade Trophy debut against Chelsea under-21s, there were snippets of quality – yet Saturday was the real deal as he grows into his new surroundings.

Ronan would fade after the break as the match ebbed away from Pompey, yet his 71st minute substitution attracted heartening applause from a home faithful clearly impressed by a tantalising contribution with much more to come.

Jackett’s men, though, could have found themselves behind after only two minutes when Tom Hopper lost Hawkins to collect a diagonal ball over the top.

Luke McGee dived at the striker’s feet to initially thwart, only for the striker to prod the ball goalwards, where Lowe cleared off the line.

Then, at the other end of the pitch, Lowe handed the Blues a 15th-minute lead with this first goal since mid-September.

Christian Burgess struck a long diagonal ball out of defence in the direction of Naismith down the right, yet instead it cleared his head and fell to Josh Morris inside the box.

However, Lowe had read the situation and nipped in to nick the ball away from his opponent before driving an angled right-foot shot into the net, via the inside of the far post.

A timely goal for the serving right wing-back considering 48 hours earlier he had been awarded a new Fratton Park deal until 2020.

That advantage would last until the 53rd minute when Kevin van Veen swooped to level for the Iron.

Hopper caused the damage down the left, beating Hawkins in the air to receive a long pass, then reacting quickest with the Pompey man still disorientated.

He then pulled the ball back from the byline where van Veen took a touch and crashed a left-footed finish into the net in one fluent move.

It was an excellent leveller from the Dutchman as the visitors capitalised on Pompey’s game dropping following the interval.

Barely five minutes later, McGee brilliantly beat out Morris’ shot from point-blank range to prevent another.

As it was, the hosts held on – while their manager proved his own point.