Crewe 0 Portsmouth 0: Jordan Cross' verdict as John Marquis' nightmare dents play-off hopes
John Marquis’ name on the team-sheet was championed as Pompey went in search of the winning away formula which will likely decide their play-off fate this season.
Yet, it was the Blues’ top scorer’s returning presence which ultimately had the deciding factor in the failure of Danny Cowley’s side to gain three precious promotion points at Gresty Road.
Marquis botched second-half penalty was the difference between a draw and fifth win from six games for the new management team, in an often disjointed showing against opposition reeling from their biggest home defeat in nearly half a century.
That came moments after the Blues’ chief poacher wasted the kind of gift-wrapped opportunity which should be his stock in trade, to ensure it finished goalless against the Railwaymen.
With the encounter the first of a triple header on the road for Pompey and one of the five remaining games away from Fratton Park, it’s away form which is set to prove decisive to top-six ambitions.
Yet, Pompey lacked the fluency and cohesion required to snaffle a win to cement that position. And it was their failure to do more to test their foe’s brittle confidence after taking a 6-0 hammering at the hands of Oxford United which frustrated.
Yes, there was a clean sheet to take away and the encouraging sight of Jack Whatmough returning to his most imperious form – a heartening sight if ever there was one.
Ultimately, though, it’s periods of play like the one Marquis went through after the break which can often be rued when margins are so fine between success and failure.
Let’s hope that’s not the case for Pompey in the final reckoning.
The sight of Marquis joining his home team-mates before the game was one to enthuse on social media, as one of two Pompey changes. The other saw Charlie Daniels replace the injured Lee Brown.
The fallout from Crewe’s biggest defeat since 1973 saw David Artell make six changes as they looked to improve inconsistent form.
It was Pompey who came out of the blocks with purpose in the spring Cheshire sunshine, producing two chances of note in the opening minutes.
First, it was Marcus Harness who headed wide when being picked out by Ronan Curtis’ inviting cross from the left in the sixth minute.
Then it was Luke Offord who frustrated as Harness advanced down the left and crossed with Ryan Williams poised to apply the final touch, before the Crewe defender intervened.
The offside flag was eventually raised after Sean Raggett had drifted free of the Crewe defence and planted a free header wide from Charlie Daniels’ in-swinging free-kick from the left.
The home side’s response was for Tom Lowery to drift a header wide from Antony Evans ball in, but the general pattern established in the Cowleys’ reign of Pompey commanding possession remained at Gresty Road.
Crewe were forced into a change after 30 minutes when Rio Adebisi was unable to continue after taking an earlier kick in the head from Curtis. He was replaced by Donervon Daniels.
After the impetus of the opening games of the Cowleys’ stewardship, this was once again failing to maintain those levels set after the weekend Burton reverse.
Pompey ended the half with some greater fluency in the final third, but there was little cohesion to the stoppage-time scramble which proved their most presentable opportunity of the opening stanza.
It was Raggett who made a connection from Daniels’ corner with Jack Whatmough halted from applying the final touch at the back post, before Naylor couldn’t do better from the ensuing melee.
Marquis’ angled drive was dealt with by Will Jaaskelainen continued the late flurry of activity which failed to distract from a fragmented game of football.
Crewe’s Daniels almost gifted Marquis the kind of sight of goal he usually relishes seven minutes after the restart as his clearance from Harness cannoned across the box, but the striker couldn’t react in time.
Naylor then breathed a sigh of relief as he gifted Chris Porter possession but Owen Dale could only fire at MacGillivray.
Then came the two minutes Marquis will want to quickly forget.
First the striker should have done much better with a free header from Williams’ cross when front and centre of goal, but instead simply headed into Jasskelainen’s accepting arms.
Then things got much worse.
It was Curtis’ driving run which was upended illegally by the Crewe keeper, but the Pompey top scorer produced a meek effort which Jaaskelainen easily kept out to his left.
The visitors huffed and puffed from there but it was largely bluster, with Lowery and Chris Porter presenting the game’s most presentable late chances.
John Westwood’s bell-ringing present was enough to attract the attention of the Cheshire Constabulary through the dying embers of a game which will quickly be consigned to memory.
It failed to distract, however, from a missed opportunity in the spring east Cheshire sunshine.