Pompey 1 Walsall 1: Jordan Cross’ match report

Brett Pitman was on the mark again for Pompey as they earned a draw against Walsall Picture: Joe Pepler
Brett Pitman was on the mark again for Pompey as they earned a draw against Walsall Picture: Joe Pepler
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The half-time ripple of applause around Fratton was as generous as it was understanding.

Pompey had just laboured through 45 minutes of disjointed football devoid of the energy required to carve out chances at League One level.

Yet, where we saw angst surface in similar scenarios across the darker moments of last term, the reaction spoke of a patience supporters are willing to afford Kenny Jackett and the Michael Eisner project. At the moment, anyway.

Let’s face it, it wasn’t pleasant to watch.

A team with financial muscle in the lower reaches of the third-tier sphere yet the seasoning to know the rules of the game at this level, set about the home team.

Little, old Walsall were owning Pompey at Fratton Park.

The Saddlers pressed high, they harried and they made this current band of men to wear royal blue look exactly what they are: A team in transition.

We’ve heard the rhetoric, the talk of an investment in youth and giving those promising talents a chance to breathe.

It’s not always that easy to swallow when it’s not happening on a Saturday afternoon, though.

But there they were. Adam May, Brandon Haunstrup and Jack Whatmough starting in front of the kind of crowd - 17,198 - which has been known to consume more experienced souls.

True, the angst surfaced. The murmurs of discontent reared their head from as early as the 18th minute, to be exact.

But the agitation at the visitors asking the questions as Kieron Morris and Luke Leahy failed to put them in front managed to reside.

And instead the chants of the positive folk took over. It was clear to hear from all four corners of the fortress.

Brett Pitman fashioned a 21st-minute chance which defender Shaun Donnellan, no matter how much he knew about it, dealt with.

It was to get worse, before thankfully it got better after the restart, though.

At least we had Carl Baker to talk about over our half-time Bovrils as we digested the reality of where the League Two champions stand this term.

Baker dominated the pre-match chat, with talk he angrily left the game before kick-off after being omitted from Jackett’s matchday squad.

Reports had Pompey’s most experienced squad member storming down the cinder track in front of the South Stand in a fit of pique at being bombed out.

Yes, there was frustration from Baker being told he wasn’t involved. Jackett wouldn’t expect it any other way.

It was to emerge, however, the 34-year-old had been granted permission to undertake a gym session at the Blues’ Roko training base and sweat out his frustrations.

With his body stocked with the fuel needed to get through 90 minutes of League One football, the nutrient-obsessed attacking midfielder was keen to expel the pre-match carb-loading he’d undertaken.

Still, the aura of disappointment around the former Coventry man was palpable and the incident undoubtedly adds more petrol to the flames over talk of a return to his former club.

Baker will seek talks with his manager in the coming days - with Jackett stating after the game he fully expected that scenario to unfold.

With the uncertainty surrounding his future, the Pompey boss has promised his player clarity over his future.

That’s been the positive working environment and understanding in place between the pair for Jackett’s time at the club.

It remains to be seen, however, if the squad manoeuvring necessary to get the balance the new man at the helm craves may still involve moving on one of the biggest earners at Fratton Park.

Jackett knows he has to sell to buy and, although Baker had appeared to be a wanted man, there may yet be a few twists and turns before the transfer window closes on August 31.

In the mean-time, the 55-year-old will work with the current options at his disposal. And, if it wasn’t evident to the Pompey faithful before, Saturday gave them more irrefutable proof this is a squad in a state of flux.

No matter the evolution taking place, any side can expect angry repercussions from the sleepy manner in which the Blues started the second half.

It was the impressive Leahy who accepted the gift 75 seconds after the restart from James Wilson’s cross, to see the home side chasing the game.

That, to their credit, they did well, with Jackett’s side the more threatening after the break.

There was Luke McGee and Christian Burgess to thank for a 68th-minute double stop to keep out Amadou Bakayoko, after Saddlers schemer Erhun Oztumer had unlocked the Pompey defence.

And there was some appreciation to afford official Brett Huxtable, ironic really given his liberal approach to dealing with Walsall’s roughhouse tactics, for Pompey’s leveller.

It was a soft penalty handed to the home side after sub Nicke Kabamba went to ground under the attentions of Mark Gillespie, which allowed skipper Pitman to ram home his third goal of the season from 12 yards.

Kabamba’s joint introduction along with Curtis Main with 25 minutes left marked a change in tack from Jackett.

Frustrated at listless Pompey being unable to break the lines and burst through the visitor’s rearguard, the pair being thrown on marked a change to a more physical tack.

It meant fans’ favourite Conor Chaplin looked on from the bench for the fourth game in a row. This time without seeing any action.

The move did the trick, though, as Pompey responded to the early second-half calls from their fans to ‘wake up’.

The closest they came to the winner was Pitman’s instinctive volley from a sweet reverse pass from Kyle Bennett - getting his 100th Pompey appearance off the bench - with 10 minutes left.

We saw a late heart-in-mouths moment as Leahy flashed an invite to grab a stoppage-time winner across the face of goal, in front of the Fratton End. It went unaccepted.

But the second-half improvements meant the players could afford to soak up some appreciation from their support on the final whistle.

It sounded like an ovation which accepted there would be more days like these ahead for a Pompey work in progress.