Portsmouth 0 Blackpool 1 – Neil Allen’s match report

A rare Pompey attack during their abject 1-0 loss to Blackpool at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler
A rare Pompey attack during their abject 1-0 loss to Blackpool at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler
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Positioned on the right flank, Anton Walkes took a touch before delivering a left-footed cross into the box.

It was met by the head of Brett Pitman, only to be diverted straight at keeper Christoffer Mafoumbi from eight yards out.

The moment signified Pompey's first on-target attempt – and arrived in the 85th minute.

An alarming statistic, nonetheless accurately reflecting the mediocrity of a Pompey display comfortably ranking as their most abject of the campaign.

Lacklustre and lifeless, Kenny Jackett’s men limped through proceedings, the 1-0 loss to Blackpool certainly no injustice.

Unmistakably, a number of boos greeted the final whistle, albeit largely drowned out by warning sirens impossible to ignore.

The Fratton faithful were intrigued how the Blues would fare in the absence of Ben Thompson.

On Saturday they were presented with the vociferous answer – while the screaming of other matters to address proved just as deafening.

There is no instant solution to bridging the gulf created by Thompson’s unscripted, yet inevitable, exit. An obvious commotion.

Now a fresh headache has emerged, namely retaining an effective attacking unit when Oli Hawkins is out of the side. They are a weakened team unit without him.

The towering striker continues to have doubters, reasonably his sharpness in front of goal is queried. Yet his all-round presence remains crucial to the Blues.

Hawkins is the focal point of side, enthusiastically selfless and a source of assists, his strengths are unable to be replicated by Brett Pitman or anyone else presently within Jackett’s squad.

The Blues have evolved since their skipper plundered 25-goals during a remarkable maiden campaign.

Those were days of Matty Kennedy and Kal Naismith operating on the left flank, while scrambling around for a suitable scoring number 10, failing a string of auditioners in the process.

The plucking of Ronan Curtis from the League of Ireland and promotion of Gareth Evans have introduced a greater collective cutting edge to Pompey, accompanied by a wider spread of goals and assists to construct a promotion challenge.

Then there’s Hawkins. He has his failings, there are legitimate arguments for an upgrade required should Championship football be secured, yet he is pivotal to how this team has risen to the top of League One – and remained there for three-and-a-half months.

On Saturday, Pitman toiled away, his attitude was excellent, there were headers won, on occasions excellent crosses delivered, certainly he is one of the few to come out of an awful Blues performance with any credit.

He lacked service from creative players around him, delivery in the final third deplorable, but how Jackett’s troops missed dancing around their totem pole carved in Dagenham & Redbridge.

During a fruitless late pursuit of an equaliser, Matt Clarke was thrown up front to add physicality and height noticeably lacking from Pompey’s options.

Instead Hawkins was perched in the South stand, surveying proceedings while once again resting that problematic calf, pencilled in for a fortnight’s comeback.

The 26-year-old will soon return, ensuring the overriding issue to be resolved is a suitable replacement for Thompson.

The influential midfielder was an unused substitute in Millwall’s 2-0 home defeat to Blackburn on Saturday evening. 

Nonetheless, his mere presence in the 18-man squad dictates any potential return during the current transfer window has edged away a little further.

Discounting the Checkatrade Trophy, Blackpool marked the first match in which Jackett has been challenged to identify an alternative. The responsibility fell to Evans.

The long-serving midfielder occupied the unfamiliar holding role for the entire 90 minutes of the Checkatrade Trophy success over Southend in the week.

It was enough to convince Pompey’s boss to name him alongside Naylor against the Tangerines, with Andre Green representing the only change to the side which started against Norwich in the FA Cup.

Unfortunately for the Blues, it was a team selection which failed. Green was frustratingly anonymous in a foreign number 10 role, epitomised by being substituted for Andy Cannon moments following an air kick which greeted a goal-scoring opportunity.

As for the ever-versatile Evans, how the Blues missed his attacking thrusts and late charges into the box, while even the effectiveness of his set-piece deliveries seemed reduced by the positional switch.

The arrival of Cannon allowed the 30-year-old to return higher up the pitch, but ultimately he was also substituted in a disappointing personal performance.

Cannon, a potential replacement for Thompson, did shine however, a bundle of energy and commitment which lifted the crowd and –unfortunately too briefly – his team-mates.

It was a highly-encouraging debut from the Rochdale recruit cup-tied for the previous two match of his Fratton Park arrival. Clearly there is plenty more to come.

Perhaps an impending deal for Bryn Morris may plug the Thompson-shaped chasm, with the former England under-20 international expected to sign on Monday.

Jackett is undoubtedly aware of his squad’s central midfield shortcomings following that Millwall recall, coupled with Ben Close presently sidelined by an ankle injury. There are moves to rectify it.

Similarly, Pompey are in the market for a powerful striker of impressive height to bolster his options, particularly adding competition to Hawkins.

In the meantime, the Fratton faithful were subjected to Saturday, a wretched apology of a display in which it took 85 minutes for the first attempt on goal – and Clarke’s 87th-minute shot to draw the first proper save.

Blackpool were not much better, content to claim a point and painfully grinding out every throw-in and free-kick which arrived in their favour.

Still, they managed to win the match on 75 minutes, a game their hosts did not deserve to collect anything from.

Jordan Thompson lofted a hopeful ball into the box which the towering Armand Gnanduillet flicked sideways, and there was substitute Chris Long with a smart first-time right-footed finish.

Long had arrived at Bloomfield Road on Tuesday from Fleetwood, yet marked his bow with the winner, ending a Blackpool wait for a goal spanning almost 400 minutes.

Pompey responded through Pitman’s header and then Clarke’s shot, but that was all. Incidentally their only on-target efforts of the entire match.

Questions will continue to be asked of how Thompson is to be replaced, but that also shouldn’t distract from the issue of Hawkins’ ongoing absence.

In the meantime, Pompey remain top of League One, their lead four points and still in pole position for automatic promotion.

Yet there are chinks expanding by the game within that impressive armour.