Scunthorpe United 1 Portsmouth 2 – Neil Allen’s match report

Gareth Evans celebrates putting Pompey on their way to a maiden victory at Glanford Park. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South.
Gareth Evans celebrates putting Pompey on their way to a maiden victory at Glanford Park. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South.
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Gutsy Glanford Park brawled to the bitter end with admirable resolution.

During a 31-year lifetime, she had mastered increasing dominance over Pompey under the travelling club’s various managerial guises.

In the four previous encounters held on Scunthorpe home terrain, the visiting Blues, led by four separate bosses, totalled a solitary point and three demoralising defeats.

On Saturday the hoodoo was finally banished, but the cursed ground scrapped to retain supremacy until its final wheezing breath.

Kenny Jackett’s men savoured a 10th away win of the campaign in all competitions, the 2-1 scoreline reflecting an encounter which became embroiled in an all-too-familiar late defensive skirmish.

Pompey should have breezed to victory following an hour of dominance amid threats of at last rattling up a convincing scoreline long since promised by the league leaders but still to be implement.

Then Lee Novak’s 60th-minute sweet strike injected fresh impetus into the flagging hosts – suddenly Glanford Park had recaptured her swaggering menace.

The Blues’ wretched Lincolnshire form was not merely restricted to this particular retail park-flanked venue, they had last won at the Iron in a March 1963 FA Cup replay.

In fact, Kenny Jackett was aged nine-and-a-half months upon the arrival of Pompey’s most recent league triumph.

Yet, as Blues followers are only too aware, this is a side creating history with even delectable footstep as they inch towards a potential Championship return.

Granted, often Jackett’s men do not entirely convince, Saturday representing another instance of grinding out the desired outcome, but they posses heart, guts and plenty of talent.

A manager with three previous promotions has moulded together a formidable team unit constructed upon an outstanding defence, arguably the finest at this level.

As the spectre of Glanford Park discovered, the Blues are currently indomitable, especially on their travels, and even its daunting historical presence cannot crack them.

The Iron rallied superbly for the final 30 minutes following Novak’s intervention, pounding the visitors’ penalty area, hoisting ball after ball high into its direction.

Christian Burgess was thrown on from the bench by Pompey, while Oli Hawkins asked to revert to the central-defensive role he served with such distinction on occasions last season.

There was even five minutes of time added on to negotiate during the anxious finale as rejuvenated home supporters roared their team on.

It was desperate stuff at times, frantic and frenetic, yet Craig MacGillivray was barely tested, such was the brilliance positioned as his screen.

Glanford Park did its best – or worst depending on your footballing persuasion – but the dogged Blues were unconquerable. Again.

Not that it should have been such a close finish, Pompey’s worrying habit of failing to finish off opponents while standing over their prone bodies continued.

A return of two goals in six minutes, contributed by Tom Naylor and Gareth Evans, handed the visitors a 2-0 half-time advantage they deserved during an opening 45 minutes in which they comfortably dominated.

Jackett had selected the same starting XI which defeated Maidenhead 2-1 two weeks earlier in the FA Cup, very much his favoured line-up at present.

It meant Brett Pitman, back from the minor knee problem which sidelined him for the Checkatrade Trophy, continuing to reside on a bench which also included Ben Close and David Wheeler.

Surprisingly, there was no place for Andre Green, with Christian Burgess, Anton Walkes and Brandon Haunstrup offering defensive reinforcements for the long trip along the M1.

This Pompey team, though, know how to win and even the contributions of Oli Hawkins are beginning to convince supporters of the value of his ongoing selection ahead of the prolific Pitman in this present framework.

Heading into the match with five goals from his last six appearances, the former Dagenham & Redbridge striker was the biggest culprit in terms of missed goal-scoring opportunities, yet he continues to lead the line superbly.

He should even have been awarded a penalty on 14 minutes when the unsubtle Cameron Burgess shoved him aside with both hands as the Blues striker teed up a shot inside the box, sending him sprawling.

Regardless, Hawkins gave a back four containing three towering central defenders a tough afternoon with his height and physicality, offering a battering ram presence the likes of Pitman is unable to.

Of course, there is also the bonus of the centre-forward being pressed into an emergency centre-half, with his time arriving during the subsequent late scrap to cling onto their hard-earned win.

Still, it was Naylor who broke the lead on 34 minutes, following Ronan Curtis’ corner from the right.

Jack Whatmough had half-volleyed his delivery goalwards from the far side of the penalty area and there was the unmarked Naylor to spin round and divert a left-footed shot into the net.

It was his first goal since AFC Wimbledon the previous month – another 2-1 occasion which followed a very similar match pattern.

Then, on 40 minutes, Nathan Thompson drove in a pass from the right which Evans touched inside the area before clipping a right-footed shot over advancing keeper Jak Alnwick to loop into the net.

It was a seventh of the campaign for the Blues skipper, who now finds himself joint-leading scorer as he continues to thrive in the number 10 role he has been asked to serve.

Yet it was his spurning of an opportunity to extend the lead to 3-0 during the second half which very nearly was rued by Pompey.

During a counter-attack, a brilliant cross from the right by Naylor couldn’t be gathered by Hawkins, but Evans was handed the opportunity to net from four yards.

However, his left-footed attempt at forcing the ball home flew wide, amid appeals that a Scunthorpe touch had diverted it for a corner, only for a goal kick to be awarded. Regardless, it seemed an improbable miss.

Moments later, George Thomas fizzed in a cross from the right having got the better of Lee Brown and, when MacGillivray palmed it away, the ball fell for Novak to smartly crash home first-time.

The match changed, suddenly it was Scunthorpe offering the greatest threat, with Pompey reverting to familiar type to ensure they retained their victory.

How they dug in, demonstrating gutsy resilience and yet again operating superbly as a team in testing defensive situations. It represents an outstanding make-up as their footballing unit.

Only two teams in 23 matches have beaten the Blues in all competitions this season – and not even the devilish Glanford Park could dent that magnificent statistic.