Why Portsmouth fell short against Sunderland in the play-offs – an autopsy of what went wrong in the second leg

Pompey suffered play-off defeat at the hands of Sunderland.

Friday, 17th May 2019, 3:00 pm
Updated Sunday, 19th May 2019, 6:37 pm

The Blues’ goalless draw at Fratton Park means they’ve missed out on a second trip to Wembley this season and the chance to contest the League One play-off final.

Kenny Jackett’s men were unable to overturn the 1-0 defeat suffered in the first leg at the Stadium of Light.

There was plenty of disappointment as Pompey were condemned to another season in the third tier.

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But why were the Blues unable to turn the tables on the Black Cats?

Here Will Rooney carries out a post-mortem of what went wrong for the hosts…


After a lacklustre attacking display in the first leg, with Sunderland keeper Jon McLaughlin not making a single save, Pompey had to increase their threat at Fratton Park.

Pompey dejected after being knocked out of the play-offs. Picture: Joe Pepler

This time the Scotland international was kept busier as the Blues searched for a way back into the tie.

McLaughlin made three stops – all from headed opportunities.

Gareth Evans had an effort thwarted from close range in the first half, while Oli Hawkins and James Vaughan were both denied after the interval.

They were all decent saves from McLaughlin.

But would he have been disappointed if he was beaten by any of those? Undoubtedly.

While Blues counterpart Craig MacGillivray made four flying stops at the Stadium of Light on April 27, each save McLaughlin made on Thursday night was virtually straight at him.

Evans was on the stretch when denied in the 40th minute, but his effort would have gone in if steered a yard either side of the keeper.

Hawkins was under slight pressure when his header at the back stick was comfortably tipped over, while McLaughlin’s save from Vaughan with his legs was probably the best.

Either way, though, the Sunderland No1 needed to be worked more.


It was a point almost every member of the Fratton faithful made after the full-time whistle.

Why didn’t Kenny Jackett throw caution to the wind?

The Pompey boss only made two substitutions, leaving his final one on the bench.

Jackett revealed it was because he felt Gareth Evans and Brett Pitman were both capable of goalscoring moments, while he didn’t want to change his ‘back six’.

The manager's pragmatic approach has been fruitful for the majority of the season.

It's why the Blues have overachieved when taking everything into account.

But if there’s a time to adopt a gung-ho approach then it's when your side's trailing 1-0 in a play-off semi-final with the clock ticking.

There was an argument to take defensive-midfielder Tom Naylor off for an attacking threat in Ronan Curtis.

If Pompey did conjure a goal and take the tie to extra-time then reassess from there – especially now teams get an additional substitution.

Even throwing Matt Clarke up front would have given Sunderland a different challenge to overcome.

After all, the centre-back wouldn’t just have challenged for headers but is a genuine ballplayer who can create chances.

If the Blues went out on their sword, even conceding another goal in the process, few fans would have had complained.

But finishing the way it did was the most frustrating.


In the second half of the season, Ben Close has been one of Pompey’s shining lights.

Since Ben Thompson’s return to Millwall, the academy graduate has stepped up to the mantle superbly.

Not only has he scored eight goals but his overall game has progressed significantly and he’s the player who makes Pompey tick.

The Blues didn’t get him on the ball enough, however.

Too often was he starved of possession, with Jackett’s men opting to go long rather than allow the ball to flow through the engine room.

When Pompey were defeated 3-2 by Peterborough last month, which put paid to their automatic promotion hopes, Jackett highlighted Close’s control as a positive during a frantic second-half display.

A bit more of that composure could have helped the Blues find a way back into the tie.


When Pompey’s team was announced, furrow brows were pulled aplenty.

Ronan Curtis being dropped wasn't entirely surprising – but the decision to bench Jamal Lowe was a major curveball.

Yes, he was subdued at the Stadium of Light. Yes, he has looked fatigued in recent weeks.

But, after all, axing the Blues’ 17-goal top scorer for the biggest game of the season was a gamble.

In fairness, you could see the rationale behind Jackett’s decision.

Viv Solomon-Otabor has far fewer miles on the clock this term. His freshness and rapid pace could have tormented Sunderland.

And if the tie was finely poised, a fired-up Lowe could have made a crucial impact.

But wide men need a run of games to hit their peak and that's something Solomon-Otabor hasn’t been handed during his loan spell at Fratton Park.

And with it being the most important game of the campaign then you'd ponder adrenaline would have got Lowe through any tiredness.