Portsmouth 0 Gillingham 2 – Neil Allen’s match report

It's agony for Tom Naylor after a first league defeat is confirmed. Picture: Joe Pepler
It's agony for Tom Naylor after a first league defeat is confirmed. Picture: Joe Pepler
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The fourth official paraded his number in the customary show-stopping moment.

The board informed those still present that four minutes remained, a figure to inspire hope and galvanise supporters into performing late vocal motivation.

Except the reaction fell flat, failing to stir a ripple of enthusiasm. A damp squib washed away inside a dripping Fratton Park.

So much for the grandiose unveiling from the sidelined match official which traditionally injects late drama into proceedings.

Of course, there was still time to salvage a draw against Gillingham – four precious minutes of it to be absolutely precise.

Yet the Fratton faithful knew the match had long been settled, the frustration instead agonisingly dragged out a little while longer.

No matter the length of time thrust into the air, Pompey’s number was up – and with it the end of that prized unbeaten league record.

In total, Kenny Jackett’s troops were handed 49 minutes to scramble back from the two-goal deficit established deep into first-half stoppage time.

While they subsequently bossed possession during a second-half improvement, they never suggested they were capable of initiating a chest-beating resurgence.

No wonder there was a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders at the board’s appearance as the final whistle thundered into view.

Despite their lofty position, incidentally a League One standing left unaffected by defeat, the Blues served up a disappointing display which barely reflected promotion credentials.

As an attacking force, they were infuriatingly wasteful from wide positions and profligate in front of goal, detractions not influenced by either the weather or opposition.

Granted, Pompey carried a threat in offensive positions, yet the final ball too often lacked in quality, while second-half shooting during that possession purple patch was often dreadful.

In addition, 14 corners failed to attract sufficient bodies on the end of some teasing deliveries, with Jackett later praising the quality of service – but criticising those inside the box.

The Gills’ 6ft 9in goalkeeper Tomas Holy was allowed to gobble up crosses far too comfortably, particularly inside his six-yard area,

For such a potent attacking quartet inside Jackett’s favoured 4-2-3-1 system, Ronan Curtis, Jamal Lowe, Gareth Evans and Brett Pitman all puzzlingly suffered a collective off-day.

A subdued Lowe, somewhat curiously, was awarded the sponsors’ man of the match, while Evans was withdrawn at half time in favour of David Wheeler.

Pitman skied a reasonable last-gasp opportunity after teed up by wonderful work from substitute Ben Thompson, with perhaps Curtis the most effective of them all, albeit marginally.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that all four have been a revelation during the charge to League One’s summit, plundering goals and carving out creativity.

Their return has been 19 goals between them, assists have entered double figures, they have often been a joy to watch in full flow.

On Saturday the spark was missing – and was never going to be reignite during four minutes of time added on.

Ben Thompson afterwards described the 2-0 loss to a Gillingham side without victory in 10 matches as one of those days. It was an evaluation impossible to argue against.

Suddenly, following 11 matches unbeaten from the start of the league season, the Blues were nursing their maiden loss. Regardless, it has been the third-best run in club post-war history.

Still, Pompey were below par on Saturday – and punished by a Gillingham side which thoroughly deserved their triumph.

Jackett had named the same team for a third-straight match, understandably following successive victories on their travels.

The sole alteration to the match-day 18 was the return of Christian Burgess to the bench in place of Brandon Haunstrup, with Danny Rose and Louis Dennis again out of favour.

Following successive Fratton Park draws against struggling Shrewsbury and Wycombe, the Gills represented another opportunity to capitalise against lowly opposition.

Instead what unfolded was the visitors leaving the south coast with what, before kick-off, would have been regarded as an unlikely outcome.

Sure enough, the deadlock was broken on 26 minutes through a stunning strike from the Gills’ Tom Eaves.

Max Ehmer steered a header inside and the big striker controlled it on his left foot, flicked it up with his right and swivelled to crash a volley with his left which gave Craig MacGillivray no chance.

Steve Lovell’s side then extended their lead on the stroke of half time following Dean Parrett’s corner from the left.

His delivery was allowed to fizz across the six-yard box, where it was steered home first time by Alex Lacey at the far post, having got the wrong side of Nathan Thompson.

Many of the Fratton faithful may have feared there would be no coming back – and that is how it panned out.

Ben Thompson and Wheeler were brought on at half time for Evans and Ben Close, which pepped up Pompey considerably.

However, despite seizing control of possession, there was no way back for the league leaders as Gillingham stood firm, with frustrating ease.

Results elsewhere ensure Pompey remain three points clear at the top of League One, irrespective of Saturday’s outcome.

And Jackett will be hoping Gillingham represents the inevitable blip after an outstanding start to what is now being perceived as a potential promotion campaign.