Scunthorpe 2 Pompey 0: Jordan Cross’ match report

Duane Holmes hands Scunthorpe a 2-0 lead against Pompey at Glanford Park following a mistake by Blues defender Dion Donohue Picture: Joe Pepler
Duane Holmes hands Scunthorpe a 2-0 lead against Pompey at Glanford Park following a mistake by Blues defender Dion Donohue Picture: Joe Pepler
Bradley Lethbridge. Picture: Colin Farmery

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Duane Holmes treated Pompey’s superior possession stats with the contempt they deserved.

The man who pricked the Blues’ interest enough last year to spend a period training at the club’s Roko base, was giving his verdict to the press after his side had just handed their rivals a lesson in life in League One.

Now in Scunthorpe colours, Holmes and the man Paul Cook had placed at the top of his striking shopping list last summer had put their former suitors to the sword.

Lee Novak’s goal crowned a performance in which he looked every inch the threatening force at League One level.

Exactly like the team he represented, in truth.

Holmes was unquestionably justified in being dismissive of the fact Kenny Jackett’s vanquished visitors to Glanford Park had registered nearly 20 per cent more possession than the home side.

After all, for all their ownership of the ball Pompey had scarcely looked like wreaking even the faintest havoc. Certainly once their seasoned third-tier foes had taken control of a clash they never looked like relinquishing.

More accurately, it was the Iron who were handed the gifts an outfit with the streetwise attributes they possess at this level simply don’t pass up.

The penchant to crunch numbers in football continues to gather pace in the post-Moneyball era. But there’s still no substitute for your eyes when gathering information in this business.

So absent Pompey souls would have been justified in looking at 59 per cent possession to 41, 13 shots to eight and eight corners to four and feeling their boys had been hard done by.

Even the bluest of royal-blue bloods among those who made the tortuous journey to North Lincolnshire couldn’t deny such a conclusion would be misguided, though.

Out of a evenly-balanced, if scrappy and inconsequential opening, Graham Alexander’s men gradually placed Pompey in a chokehold, before slowly draining the life out of Jackett’s men and putting them to sleep.

It was an exercise in League One wisdom against a green foe who all-too-easily slipped into their rivals’ grasp through their own naivety.

Once in Scunthorpe’s web there was no escape. Pompey were juicy prey for a side who’ve conceded just three league goals this term.

The Iron conjure unfashionable football connotations, still deal with references to cricket legend Ian Botham in their colours and battle sniggers about that unfortunate substring in their name.

But it seems the joke may well end up being on the rest of League One, as their latest success leaves them among the pacesetters at this formative stage of the season.

Nous seeps from the pores of Alexander’s side, as they showed themselves to be a battle-hardened foe from two fiercely-fought campaigns at this level.

Goal difference separated them from the play-offs in 2016 while much of the last campaign saw them lead the way, before finishing third.

In a simple game made complicated by idiots, as Bill Shankly famously decreed, Scunthorpe have settled upon an unfussy formula for success.

A powerful, no-nonsense spine to the team is complemented by youthful energy and direct running in wide areas.

Allied to a strikeforce with that ying and yang understanding and blend of silk and steel, it’s a well-balanced blend. Oh, and all within the framework of that archaic 4-4-2 formation, too.

Both Paddy Madden and Novak had fired warning shots across the bows - the latter via the woodwork - before Scunthorpe took the lead in the 12th minute.

Jackett quite rightly pointed to the mistakes from Dion Donohue in Pompey’s downfall, the first as he overcovered allowing space in the left-back position to be feasted on.

Scunthorpe were ruthless in their exploitation, as Neal Bishop’s raking crossfield pass was taken seamlessly on the run by the impressive Jordan Clarke. Novak was the man to dispatch the unerring finish.

The response from the Blues was encouraging and largely channeled through the line-breaking runs of Jamal Lowe.

It’s the 23-year-old Jackett’s side increasingly turn to in a search for the energy and positivity to create chances.

And it was Lowe’s right boot which carved the opening for what was to be the game’s key moment in the 30th minute.

At 6ft 5in, Hawkins has spoken of being content with taking on the unfashionable tag of ‘target man’ at Pompey.

The non-league arrival will not get a better chance to use his height advantages and open his goal account, than the gilt-edged chance he passed up with the whites of the goal in his eyes.

It’s tough to legislate for such a miss. Much like the botched headed clearance three minutes later, which ensured Scunthorpe exerted a vice-like grip on a game they never looked like relinquishing.

His general play may have offered cause for optimism, but it’s a fair bet Donohue will be giving the game’s YouTube highlights a wide berth after his error gifted Holmes the second.

After a period in which Pompey had stood toe-to-toe with their opponents, they could count themselves lucky not to have been further behind at the break.

Novak couldn’t apply the final touch a couple of yards out in the best of Scunthorpe’s pressure, but it mattered little.

Pompey were handed the ball after the interval and asked if they had the minerals to open up a regimented and well-drilled promotion contender. Right now, they don’t.

That was reflected in their dearth of opportunities they were able to conjure to test Alexander’s men.

The fact the best of it, before a late Lowe chance, came via an acrobatic effort from defender Christian Burgess said it all.

‘They ended up doing a job on us,’ was Jackett’s honest assessment, after 815 hardy souls had battled the carnage on the roads to witness defeat. ‘It’s something we have to learn from.’

That’s the minimum requirement after the Pompey boss’ young side were handed a schooling in the harsh realities of League One existence.