Kenny Jackett revealed concerns over fatigue prompted Pompey to line-up against Sunderland without Jamal Lowe and Ronan Curtis.
Out-of-sorts Curtis made way for Viv Solomon-Otabor in last night’s play-off semi-final second leg at Fratton Park.
Yet it was Jackett’s decision to drop 17-goal top-scorer Lowe from his starting XI which drew the most surprise from the Fratton faithful.
The winger, who is sure to be the subject of transfer interest this summer, finally entered on 52 minutes in place of Solomon-Otabor.
Curtis, however, remained on the bench, despite Jackett having one substitution still to make in the goalless draw which marked play-off elimination.
For Pompey’s boss, though, it was a question of energy.
Jackett said: ‘With Curtis and Lowe, I felt they were both lacking energy and in recent weeks the whole side has really.
‘We have slightly limped over the line if you are looking at our results and our performances.
‘Since probably Easter – when we beat Burton and Coventry – we haven’t quite been able to find the right moments and the big moments and that has been disappointing.
‘But similarly, in terms of energy, I did feel we needed an energetic side last night.,
‘For a number of weeks I don’t think Lowe and Ronan have had their full energy. To expect them to run like they have all season, well it has been tough for them in recent weeks.
‘Jamal didn’t particularly spark when he did come on, (Bryan) Oviedo is a good full-back and made it difficult for us to get the ball to him.’
Meanwhile, Jackett explained his frustration at the team’s failure to get Brett Pitman more involved in the action.
He added: ‘We got a head of steam up slightly, but Brett couldn’t quite get on the ball in the second period.
‘We looked a threat first half and were getting the ball into him, with some good lay-offs, some good touches in and around the box.
‘But with Brett we just couldn’t get him into the game in the second half, either get him the service or for him to get on the ball, which could make a difference.’