Portsmouth 0 Gillingham 0 - Neil Allen's verdict: Point not good enough for banal Blues after another tedious display
Steve Evans cooed about the ‘magnificent’ defensive performance constructed by his stubborn Gillingham side.
With cold-eyed implementation, they strangled the life out of Fratton Park proceedings, an agonising drawn-out demise as self-preservation seized control.
If Saturday’s game was to sink into depths of icy darkness, the callous Gills were intent on dragging Pompey down with them. There should be no survivors.
Certainly many spectators bailed before the bitter end, admittedly gasping for pints rather than air, nonetheless the suffocating climate could be swallowed no longer.
Even referee Graham Salisbury elected to throw in the towel rather than muster the energy to enforce new stipulations that substituted players must depart by the closest touchline.
Another Gillingham time-wasting stunt to smother the spirit of a home support growing ever demoralised at the excruciating footballing fare served up.
Yet focus should not be trained on the visitors’ stifling gameplan – instead Pompey’s own deficiencies must be concentrated upon.
For all the haranguing of match officials emanating from the away bench, the validity of the subsequent goalless draw is not the Gills’ issue. They achieved their goal.
Rather, the Blues must analyse their own inability to overcome such meticulously-placed obstacles.
After all, this side has been assembled to earn promotion and, on Saturday, possessed the benefits of home advantage – yet failed to outwit Evans and Co.
The first half was encouraging enough, the bulk of the Blues’ goal-scoring opportunities arose during a period overwhelmingly one-sided.
After the interval, however, an ordinary, but highly-drilled Gillingham, hauled the hosts down to their basic level as the match suffered a lingering death.
No wonder Steve Evans was delighted. It mattered not that their first and only on-target attempt arrived on 82 minutes through Brandon Hanlan’s weak effort.
The result was Pompey’s problem, certainly not a single person of Gills persuasion will have held an inquest into the manner of their Fratton Park point.
Kenny Jackett’s side came up short, not for the first time this season, and, perhaps even more infuriating, failed to maintain the promise of that opening 45 minutes.
In truth, the first half delivered some of their best football of what is establishing itself as a difficult season, albeit admittedly with the bar presently not set too high.
Keeper Jack Bonham produced saves from Gareth Evans (twice) and Ben Close – and, when he was beaten, the post intervened.
On 33 minutes, Mikael Ndjoli’s handball down the left presented a free-kick opportunity for Evans, whose right-footed delivery was met by the head of Sean Raggett.
The ball cannoned off the inside of the near post and bounced clear. Ultimately, it would be the closest either side would come to scoring.
Amid the south-coast rain, there was enough to hearten the Fratton faithful at the interval. Granted, the breakthrough had so far eluded, but there were signs to raise sagging belief.
Dominating possession, utilising a strikeforce of Pitman and the recalled Ellis Harrison, Jackett’s side these days offer a more considered approach than crashing the ball towards Oli Hawkins.
That was evident in the first half, with Gillingham's contribution dawdling on the periphery as they toiled to keep the hosts at arm’s length.
Entering goalless at the break, there were nagging concerns Pompey had failed to make their superiority count. Still, victory remained within their grasp.
Not so, as it turned out.
Bass, on the occasion of his second Football League outing courtesy of Craig MacGillivray away on Scotland duty, was barely involved throughout, contrasting a man-of-the-match display at Oxford United in the Leasing.com Trophy during the week.
The second change was last weekend's Doncaster match winner, Ellis Harrison, promoted from the bench to swap with out-of-sorts John Marquis.
While Bass’ introduction was influenced by necessity, Harrison was perceived as bolstering the Blues’ cutting edge, yet the hard-working striker’s service was alarmingly mediocre during the second half.
Summer signing Marquis’ confidence has taken a battering through the lack of creativity thrown in his direction – and that remained the case after the interval against Gillingham.
While the visitors were content for a point, Pompey’s drive slowed alarmingly, preferring to play possession football between the back four and central midfielders within their own half.
There was patience, yet little bravery, as Jackett’s men prodded and probed without discovering any semblance of killer instinct to carve out goal-scoring opportunities.
In fairness, the home support stuck with them, holding back their boos for the final whistle, yet the on-pitch display washed away all atmosphere as Fratton Park ground to a halt.
To think in the build up Lee Brown had called for an impressive performance to accompany a victory – the Blues failed to accomplish either.
Yet the left-back had an excellent point, in league action Jackett’s men have been unconvincing this season, despite three victories. During the opening 10 fixtures, they have barely quickened the pulse.
Brown himself could have yielded victory in time added-on, substitute Ryan Williams whipping in a cross from the right which was slashed across the face of goal by the former Bristol Rovers man inside the box.
Pompey didn’t deserve to lose, they were by far the superior team. Besides, Gillingham needed to attack with significant threat to warrant victory.
However, this Jackett team is drifting at present as he fiddles with systems and tinkers with starting XIs.
Saturday once again demonstrated the solution has still not been unearthed, for all the endeavours of the players and talent within the squad.
Steve Evans’ side were there for the taking, unambitious, lacking quality, and second best in attacking terms for vast swathes of the match.
But still this latest version of the Blues’ team could not unlock them, they lacked fearlessness on the ball and, tellingly, confidence, as the game wore depressingly on.
Gillingham deserved their point, rich reward for a spirited defensive display and carrying out their manager’s instructions impeccably. Each team have their own motivation, especially when visiting Fratton Park, there’s nothing wrong with that.
It is Pompey’s responsibility to break down such barriers, particularly when challenged to earn promotion following a fitful start to the campaign.
On Saturday, a point was not good enough – and neither was another tedious display in a lengthening line.