Burton 2 Portsmouth 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Fans' damning 'We are staying up' message accurately highlights Blues lack of promotion threat
The chant was ironic, gallows humour if you like, but blunt, to the point and with a fair amount of accuracy.
With Pompey trailing 2-0 at Burton, the sizeable away contingent sang ‘We are staying up’.
This is not a relegation campaign for Danny Cowley’s men – and neither is it promising to threaten the play-offs.
By the end of September, the Blues appear nothing more than a mid-table side occupying 13th spot. It’s going to be a long season.
Granted, there’s plenty of time to go, a significant period to improve and evolve. We can all agree this is a team in transition.
However, against Burton tonight, Cowley’s troops once again demonstrated they are lagging considerably behind any realistic promotion ambition.
Retaining the back three which offered so much encouragement in draws against Plymouth and Charlton, its defensive flaws were evident once more.
On this occasion it was an under-hit pass from Lee Brown, who initiated the move which allowed Tom O’Connor to drive home a 32nd-minute opener.
Overall, though, Pompey looked nervy at the back when trying to maintain possession, closed down by Burton’s energy and appearing highly vulnerable.
Meanwhile, for the class above Joe Morrell is beginning to look, the visitors were lacking in midfield, unable to dominate.
As for up front, John Marquis had the Blues’ best chance of the first half and has now netted once in 11 matches this season.
Daniel Jebbinson’s wonderful shot from distance made it 2-0 on the half mark, prompting a triple substitution from Cowley and the emergence of that supporter chant.
Substitute Reeco Hackett-Fairchild did at least provide hope of a fightback, with a stunning free-kick some 22-yards from goal.
Yet Burton’s keeper was barely called upon to make a save for the remaining 26 minutes of the match as the visitors poured forward for the leveller.
The hosts deserved their win, nobody can dispute that, and Pompey warranted absolutely nothing.
That’s eight matches without a win in all competitions for the Blues as they limp along, threatening to rise but continuing to stumble and fall to their knees.
And defeat at Burton could arguably be the most alarming of all those disappointing outcomes as the season heads to Saturday’s visit of Sunderland.
It was the same Pompey team for a third straight match in the hunt to return to winning ways.
The Blues’ boss kept in faith John Marquis, backing up his vocal support for a striker who started the match with one goal in 10 matches this term.
With his team having impressed overall in the previous two fixtures after introducing three centre-halves, Cowley retained the system at the Pirelli Stadium.
That meant Kieron Freeman, Sean Raggett and Shaun Williams operating in a back three, with Mahlon Romeo and Lee Brown as wing-backs.
However, there was no sign of Connor Ogilvie, despite having returned to training following a thigh issue.
There was one change on the bench, with Michael Jacobs replacing Miguel Azeez among the substitutes.
Gassan Ahadme, who like Jacobs had been out of the squad in recent weeks, travelled to Derbyshire as 19th man.
Meanwhile, the Brewers included former Blues triallist Ryan Leak among their substitutes, following five League One starts this season.
Yet there was no place in their 18-man squad for Bryn Morris, despite making his first league start in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Lincoln.
When the game got underway, it took just 22 seconds for the Blues to claim the game’s first corners.
Taken by Lee Brown from the right, once it was cleared it initiated a Burton counter with two players racing away down the left to beat the offside trap.
Thankfully, the pace of Mahlon Romeo enabled him to produce a saving slide tackle and prevent conceding yet another goal on the break this season.
Moments later, a Brewers corner from the right fell kindly to Michael Bostwick and his right-footed shot was pushed around the post by the flying Gavin Bazunu.
It had been an explosive start to the match and Jonny Smith prodded a shot wide from a decent position on the right inside the box.
Pompey were defending manfully, coping with the early pressure and, on 11 minutes, had to produce successive blocks to deny two Daniel Jebbison goal attempts.
The visitors, however, responded with Romeo delivering an excellent cross from the right and Marquis’ header was taken on the stretch by keeper Ben Garratt.
There was a scare for Burton on 19 minutes when Curtis chased a Blues clearance, with Garratt also advancing outside his box to deal with it.
The keeper jumped with Curtis for the high ball, with both missing it, yet despite being the first to react, the Irishman was unable to collect and shoot into an empty net.
Then Jebbison fired a low cross crying out for someone to apply the finishing touch inside the six-yard box, while when the ball was returned, it just eluded bodies at the far post.
On 32 minutes, Burton broke the deadlock and, in truth, it had been coming.
Brown’s attempted pass to Williams around the box was far too short, opening the door for Jonny Smith to launch a home attack.
It resulted in O’Connor rifling a shot into the far bottom corner to make it 1-0 – and once again Pompey had contributed to their own downfall.
With the Blues trailing 1-0 at the break, there were no substitutions, although they desperately required a much-improved second half.
Burton were forced into a change on 52 minutes when Bostwick tangled with Marquis on the left touchline, with Leak introduced from the bench.
Romeo then flashed a first-time left-footed cross over the bar from inside the box following Brown’s cross from the left.
It took a stunning save from Bazunu on 59 minutes to prevent further damage, with a flying stop to deny Charlie Lakin’s wonderful swirling 25-yarder.
It was 2-0 on 60 minutes, however, with Jebbison lashing one in from 22-yards which found the top corner.
Cowley instantly made a triple substitution with Marquis, Tunnicliffe and Freeman replaced by Reeco Hackett-Fairchild, Ellis Harrison and Louis Thompson.
On 64 minutes, the Blues reduced the deficit after winning a free-kick through Joe Morrell some 25-yards from goal.
Up stepped substitute Hackett-Fairchild to net with a sublime left-footed shot which clinically beat Garratt to make it 2-1.
Pompey pushed for the equaliser, yet were struggling to make inroads, while, at the other end, substitute Jacob Maddox saw his shot saved at the near post by the legs of Bazunu.
Cowley’s men poured forward, with six minutes of time added on offering hope, but they couldn’t test Garratt further and it was Burton who claimed a deserved win.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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