Portsmouth 2 Walsall 0: Neil Allen’s match report

0
Have your say

On this occasion under the Fratton floodlights there was no Ronaldinho or Filippo Inzaghi to deny Pompey.

The 2-0 lead was unassailable, welcomingly impregnable on a wet south-coast day.

Oli Hawkins got the opening goal to put Pompey in command. Picture: Joe Pepler

Oli Hawkins got the opening goal to put Pompey in command. Picture: Joe Pepler

There was to be no late heartbreaking comeback.

It was 10 years to the day when AC Milan swaggered into Fratton Park to provide the all-star opposition in a fixture which entered club folklore.

That encounter culminated in a 2-2 draw, the Italian giants netting twice in the final six minutes amid a pulsating atmosphere and a lifetime of memories.

No such drama a decade on at the famous old ground. Thankfully.

Walsall were dispatched with familiar efficiency from a Kenny Jackett side which has taken residency at the top of League One.

There were impressive moments for periods and, generally, domination of proceedings.

Oli Hawkins struck in the first half, Ronan Curtis landed a blow early in the second, and that was effectively match over and triumph assured for Pompey.

Certainly no late hiccup to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory – as painfully experienced against Kaka and Co.

Yet, unlike Tony Adams’ gung-ho side, this current team does not squander leads or relinquish its hard-earned advantage.

The outcome was a 13th win from 19 League One outings this season, maintaining their four-point lead.

And Fratton Park, witnessing its first league fixture in 36 days, this time applauded a winning team on a cold November evening.

In the build up, Jackett had been boosted by Jamal Lowe and Gareth Evans recovering from knocks which prompted their substitutions at Scunthorpe, enabling him to name an unchanged side.

The sole alteration to the match-day 18 on duty at Glanford Park was the dropping of Anton Walkes after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The right-back has been charged with driving while disqualified outside Fratton Park on October 20 – and for having no insurance.

However, he failed to appear at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday morning to answer the charges.

Walkes had been expected to sit on the Blues’ bench for Walsall’s visit, but his place was instead taken by Andre Green.

When the match kicked off, it was the visitors who created the first opportunity, Josh Ginnelly’s sixth-minute cross from the left was met with a looping header over the bar by Kane Wilson.

The Blues swiftly responded with Curtis flighting a cross in from the left and Evans attacking the space only to balloon his header well wide.

Walsall won the game’s first corner on 14 minutes, played short down the left, followed by another flag kick, which came to nothing.

There were strong Pompey appeals for a penalty on 16 minutes when Nicky Devlin bundled into the back of Evans as he progressed inside the box, sending the skipper to the floor.

Incredibly, though, referee Alan Young opted not to award a spot-kick, despite Devlin nowhere near the ball in his challenge.

In the Blues’ next attack, Lowe wriggled in the penalty area and only a brilliant block from Luke Leahy prevented his subsequent shot threatening the visitors’ goal.

Jackett’s men did break the deadlock, though, on 25 minutes with Hawkins grabbing his seventh of the season.

Curtis drove in a right-footed cross from the left which took a deflection and ballooned to the far post where Hawkins headed home from the angle.

Minutes later, a ferocious left-footed shot from outside the box by Ben Thompson was agonisingly wide of the far post.

The hosts were pushing forward for more goals and when Nathan Thompson flighted in a cross from the right, Lowe crashed an angled far-post volley well wide when he should have done better.

On the stroke of half time, wonderful interaction between Hawkins, Lowe and Curtis saw the latter drive a right-footed shot from the angle narrowly past the far post.

Pompey held their lead at the break, although two minutes into the restart Ginnelly wasted a glorious opportunity to level.

Russell Martin clipped an inviting pass into the left channel, with the winger crashing a right-foot volley over the bar with a goal beckoning.

The visitors were made to rue that missed chance when Pompey extended their lead on 49 minutes.

Lowe started the move, flighting a ball in from the left, yet although Curtis’ path was initially blocked, the winger pounced to swivel and smash home from close range.

Hawkins should have made it 3-0, only to plant his header from Evans’ right-wing corner over the bar from six yards out.

Walsall appealed for a penalty on the hour mark when Wilson went down under a challenge from Lee Brown, only for the referee to book the midfielder for simulation.

The visitors introduced former Blues loanee Connor Ronan on 65 minutes for Ginnelly as their first substitution.

Jackett then made his opening change, with David Wheeler replacing Curtis with 15 minutes remaining.

Walsall were now enjoying their best spell of the match and Ronan drove a shot just wide of the post as they began to pose problems.

However, the hosts responded with a fierce right-footed drive from Nathan Thompson from 25 yards which had flying keeper Liam Roberts tipping it over the bar.

With four minutes of time added on indicated, there remained faint hope for Walsall – but this Blues side does not relinquish leads.

In fact it was Jackett’s men who looked more likely to score the next goal, Ben Thompson going close with a header at the far post.

So no dramas, no heartache – a 2-0 advantage preserved and victory concluded.