Portsmouth 1 Fleetwood 0 – Neil Allen’s match report

0
Have your say

The Fratton end’s resurrected rendition stirred memories and invoked smiles.

A familiar tune, albeit bearing altered lyrics, yet instant transportation to folk-hero days of Paul Merson, Svetoslav Todorov, Steve Stone and their marvellous ilk.

Tom Naylor heads the ball back across goal for Oli Hawkins (not pictured) to grab the winner. Picture: Joe Pepler

Tom Naylor heads the ball back across goal for Oli Hawkins (not pictured) to grab the winner. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘Top of the league, with Kenny and Joe’ came the cry after 81 minutes against Fleetwood, the song proceeding to gather volume and popularity.

The revised chant had emerged on occasions at AFC Wimbledon a week earlier, leaping to the attention of a bemused Joe Gallen from his Kingsmeadow dug-out vantage point.

Yet on Saturday it escalated considerably, as Fratton Park reverberated to a sustained chorus last heard around the famous old ground some 15 years previously.

Kitman Kev McCormack had to later explain to Gallen the significance of lyrics which once consisted of the names Harry and Jim – Mssrs Redknapp and Smith – during the 2002-03 promotion campaign.

The Blues’ assistant manager was also educated on the unflattering variant which later materialised following the duo’s defection to Southampton in November 2004.

Still, the modern-day upscaling demonstrates the strengthening belief among the Fratton faithful that this could be a special season, yielding a return to the Championship.

With 33 points from their opening 14 matches, no club in the Football League have currently collected as many points as Kenny Jackett’s men.

This despite on Saturday claiming a first home league win for 50 days following three Fratton fixtures without victory.

The swagger and attacking flair characterised by that Redknapp side is presently eluding this table-topping version, but the outcome remains just as devastatingly conclusive.

There are gears still to find, the Blues are far from the fluent unit they consistently suggest they can be, yet the wins continue to rack up for this efficient and highly-effective team.

They are constructed upon a resolute back four – plus Craig MacGillivray – and possess counter-attacking talent which thrives, in particular, on their travels.

Saturday was again short on peak performance yet, once the breakthrough was achieved through Hawkins on 50 minutes, there was never any hint of doubt the hosts wouldn’t see out their advantage.

The opening 45 minutes were dull and dreary underneath the October sunshine, visitors Fleetwood certainly contributing towards strangling the life out of what became an insipid first half.

However, this Pompey side are capable of dredging up a way to claim victory, on this occasion a system change and much-improved second-half showing securing a 1-0 triumph.

Afterwards Cod Army boss Joey Barton blasted referee Lee Swabey’s display, accusing the match official of ‘costing’ them the match.

The centrepiece for such criticism was the sending off of right-back Nathan Sheron with six minutes remaining, following two bookable offences on Ronan Curtis.

Barton, who pestered the unfortunate fourth official throughout, overlooked the fact his side mustered a mere two shots all game – and none on target. Surprising from a team in fine form of late and potentially stiff opposition.

While the visitors offered nothing, Pompey had to ramp up their own performance levels to capitalise. Thankfully for their supporters, that arrived through Hawkins on the occasion of his 50th club outing.

Jackett had made one change to the side which won at AFC Wimbledon the previous weekend, Gareth Evans making way for Curtis, back from a two-game absence through international duty.

It also prompted a reshuffle, the Blues retaining the 4-4-2, with the returning Irishman pushed up alongside Hawkins in attack and Jamal Lowe moving over to replace Evans on the right flank.

Once again no room for Brett Pitman, with Hawkins, a player registering one goal this season, leading the line. Meanwhile, Tom Naylor was installed as captain, with Evans joining Pitman on the bench.

During a first half which saw Lewie Coyle booked after 29 minutes for time-wasting while attempting to delay a throw-in, Fleetwood’s approach to the fixture was clear, applying the brakes whenever possible.

As for Pompey, they struggled to generate a meaningful tempo, creating a shuddering stalemate and instantly forgettable opening 45 minutes of barren football.

However, Jackett possesses options within his squad and the ability to switch formations with winning results, as again proven against the Cod Army.

There were no substitutions at the interval, instead he reverted to the favoured 4-2-3-1, switching Dion Donohue alongside Naylor in the holding midfield roles, and pushing up Ben Thompson in-between Jamal Lowe and Curtis.

Within five minutes, Donohue’s corner from the right was headed back by Naylor at the far post and nodded home at close range by Hawkins.

The decisive moment in a match of sparse goal-scoring opportunities – and early enough in the second half to remove the tension, allowing the vast majority of the 18,046 crowd the opportunity to enjoy the match’s remainder in the knowledge victory was arriving.

Ben Thompson was the inspiration throughout, his battling qualities, thrusting runs and talent to retain possession through a low centre of gravity shone dazzlingly bright.

There remains a touch of class about his play, with the more advanced role also suiting the flexible capabilities of the Millwall loanee.

Elsewhere, Donohue thrived in the deep-lying midfield role, producing several long cross-field passes with pinpoint accuracy, much to the obvious admiration of supporters.

With three wins in as many appearances since his return from injury and illness earlier this month, the Welshman is wasting absolutely no time in catching up.

As for Hawkins, a perfect occasion to register a 10th goal for the club on his 50th appearance during an impressive all-round game as Pompey stretched their points advantage over second place to six.

Top of the league, with Kenny and Joe.