Cambridge United 0 Portsmouth 0: Neil Allen's verdict - Enthralling return to action for sluggish Blues amid afternoon of drama and controversy

Pompey had waited 23 days to return to action, the result was gripping footballing drama yet, ultimately, frustrating.

Monday, 3rd January 2022, 5:46 pm
Updated Monday, 3rd January 2022, 6:07 pm

Cambridge United provided the setting for the Blues’ resumption following coronavirus cancellations in what turned out to be a goalless draw.

Disappointment for Danny Cowley’s men, particularly as they faced 10-men for the final 30 minutes following Sam Smith’s dismissal for two bookings.

Indeed, in an encounter during which a sluggish Pompey were never at their best after unwanted time off, that represented a golden opportunity for a breakthrough.

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Pompey's Ronan Curtis battles for possession with Ben Worman in the Bank Holiday Monday encounter with Cambridge United. Picture: Dennis Goodwin/ProSportsImages

As it was, Cowley’s troops mustered up just two shots on target all game, while Reeco Hackett and Ronan Curtis were responsible for two poor misses.

Nonetheless, it was an enthralling occasion, played out in front of a passionate home support hammering referee Joshua Smith throughout.

Certainly they were unhappy over the match official’s handling of the match – and made their feelings known at the final whistle.

There was also the drama of a medical incident among the main Cambridge home end forcing a delay – culminating in 27 minutes of time added on.

Still, Cowley will be annoyed his rusty side couldn’t capitalise, even if they are now 10 matches unbeaten in League One.

Joe Morrell represented the sole change to the side which beat Morecambe last time out.

The Wales international replaced Miguel Azeez in the centre of midfield, having recovered from a sickness bug.

Azeez dropped to a bench which included out-of-favour trio Paul Downing, John Marquis and Ellis Harrison, who Pompey are seeking to offload this month.

In the case of Downing and Harrison, there has been solid interest as Cowley attempts to create room in his budget for recruits.

Yet they remain involved in the match-day 18, as does Marquis, to offer a strong bench for the Blues’ head coach to call upon.

However, there was no squad return at the Abbey Stadium for Clark Robertson, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Louis Thompson, despite recently stepping up their comebacks from injury.

Lee Brown was also among the substitutes, having recovered from a hamstring injury which had impacted him before the recent spate of cancelled matches.

When the game got underway, Marcus Harness and Ronan Curtis combined to nod the ball through to George Hirst on the right-hand side of the box.

He fired in an angled right-footed attempt, yet it wasn’t clen and bounced across the face of goal and wide of the far post for a goal kick.

On four minutes, the visitors won the game’s first corner, taken by Harness down the right using some elaborate training ground routine involving most players positioned on the near corner of the box.

Certainly supporters present were baffled by the approach, which came to nothing and was wastered, much to the amusement of home fans.

At the other end, Reeco Hackett won possession on the edge of Pompey’s box, only to gift it away again needlessly.

The ball eventually fell to George Williams, whose shot from the right from the angle was saved by the sprawling Gavin Bazunu, who managed to keep hold of it.

Cambridge roared for a foul on 10 minutes when Sean Raggett tangled with Joe Ironside as the striker attempted to burst clear of him.

Raggett could have been viewed as the last man, committing a foul, but referee Joshua Smith was not interested, much to the home supporters’ anger.

There was a flashpoint on 16 minutes when Harness trod on the grounded Williams as he attempted to avoid falling over.

The home fans shouted for a red card, U’s skipper Paul Digby had Harness in a headlock, with the referee needing to calm it all down before issuing his punishment.

The outcome was plenty of lectures and a booking for Sam Smith for something he had said to the match official.

Moments later, Harness, who was now being booed, used excellent trickery down the left before squaring the ball to Hackett, who skied a first-time shot from inside the box over the bar.

Cambridge’s reaction was a shot from Adam Ma which was superbly pushed out by Bazunu, with James Brophy following up and seeing his goal-bound effort blocked by the flying Mahlon Romeo.

On 38 minutes, Curtis had to receive treatment after Brophy applied a knee to his face as he slid for a challenge, earning the Cambridge man a yellow card.

The half closed to Bazunu beating out a Smith shot at his near post as the game remained goalless going into the break.

Pompey won an early corner down the left at the start of the second half, yet committed a foul following Williams’ delivery.

A potentially pivotal moment arrived on the hour mark when Smith was dismissed following a second yellow.

Ogilvie had to receive lengthy treatment in the centre of the pitch, with the indications that the Cambridge man had elbowed him.

The player himself looked bemused, as did the home fans, with some standing up to applaud as he left the field - while Ogilvie had to change his blood-stained shorts and put swabs up each nostril.

Play had barely got underway before play was suspended following a medical incident in the Cambridge home end.

Upon the players’ return to the pitch, Freeman was replaced by Michael Jacobs, while, for the hosts, James Knibbs came on for Ben Worman.

Then, on 79 minutes, Brown came on for Hackett as the Blues implemented a back four.

Cambridge won a free-kick down the right and May’s delivery was met with an Ironside header which was saved by Bazunu, who worryingly couldn’t initially hold it.

The game had been cranked up and Jacobs’ low shot from the edge of the box was superbly pushed round the post by Dimitar Mitov.

A total of 21 added minutes were signalled as the match headed towards a fascinating finale.

Curtis should really have grabbed the winner near the end when Harness crossed from the right and he skied it over at the far post.

At the death, Williams put a free-kick into the box, yet Ogilvie lifted a great chance over the bar with his left foot.

Pompey hadn’t done enough to deserve victory – and so it proved as an entertaining encounter finished goalless.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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