Kenny Jackett explained his desire to identify the ‘right combination’ prompted the dropping of Brett Pitman.
Pompey’s 14-goal striker has been out of sorts of late, last netting from open play in the league on November 18.
On Saturday the skipper was among three players omitted for the Fratton Park clash with Shrewsbury Town – but he was, inevitably, the biggest talking point.
Oli Hawkins instead lined up in attack, with Kal Naismith operating behind in the number 10 role.
Pitman was later introduced in the 55th minute, a cameo which saw him strike the bar and also draw an excellent save from keeper Craig MacGillivray.
Yet the Blues suffered a 1-0 defeat as they continue to seek a maiden win of 2018.
Oli’s a big thing and a good centre-forward who has a lot of attributes holding the ball up but we do need some pace around himKenny Jackett
And afterwards Jackett gave his reasons for leaving Pitman out of his side.
He said: ‘We wanted to look at Hawkins and Naismith as a pair. I always feel, with Brett anyway, that even if he comes on in the second half there are goals in him.
‘There were chances in him, key chances but obviously not goals.
‘Similarly, if he has the type of key chances that he did on Saturday, percentage-wise he will put them away.
‘But to start the game I wanted to try to get as much tempo as I could out of the team – and Hawkins and Naismith were the preferred partnership up front. They didn’t do badly.
‘In terms of Oli, we need the right amount of life around him. He’s a big thing and a good centre-forward who has a lot of attributes holding the ball up but we do need some pace around him.
‘We just need the right combination and right pace around.
‘Brett hasn’t scored from open play for a little while but even so I still think off the bench he can score in the second half. Shrewsbury also left their top scorer (Stefan Payne) on the bench.
‘Not being in the team was not necessarily a reflection of Brett. I don’t think enough is made of combinations – and the combinations in the front part of the side are key.
‘We need to find the right one, there is no doubt about that.
‘In terms of heart and endeavour and putting balls into the box and putting pressure on the side we did well but we have to find the right combination up front.’
Meanwhile, Adam May was given his marching orders in stoppage-time following a second yellow card.
He now misses next weekend’s visit of Doncaster.
Jackett added: ‘Adam’s a young player, making his way and he will learn from it.
‘Probably the first booking you can look at it but the referee decided it was two bookable offences and that’s what it is.
‘You can’t appeal two yellow cards. We’ll accept it.
‘He did okay, he did some good things.
‘There are some things he needs to brush up on but there were some very good things as well.’