Plymouth 1 Portsmouth 0: Neil Allen's verdict - Shot shy and lacking in creativity, lacklustre Blues fall as play-off hopes suffer body blow

The Plymouth fans groaned at the sight of the fourth official’s board declaring six minutes of time added on.

Tuesday, 15th March 2022, 10:02 pm
Republic of Ireland international Ronan Curtis on the attack during the first half of Pompey's encounter with Plymouth. Picture: Graham Hunt
Republic of Ireland international Ronan Curtis on the attack during the first half of Pompey's encounter with Plymouth. Picture: Graham Hunt

The consequence of throwing two flares onto the pitch following Ryan Hardie’s 65th minute strike and the restart subsequently being delayed.

Not that the Home Park faithful had anything to fear during the increased playing time – their keeper remained redundant.

Michael Cooper finally got himself involved when punished with a yellow card late on for time wasting, otherwise he was a spectator.

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Pompey finished strongly and with purpose, but frustratingly continued their failure to even draw a save from the Pilgrims’ under-used goalkeeper.

Unfortunately, not even the bonus of six minutes added on was going to alter that.

The Blues visited Devon on the back of eight matches without defeat as this small squad rotated so impressively conjured up some remarkable displays.

Yet at Home Park they were second best for the vast majority of the match and can have no complaints about finishing on the losing side in a 1-0 defeat.

Indeed, creativity was lacking alarmingly, hence Cooper’s non-involvement, leaving Gavin Bazunu and his back three to finish as stars of the show, such was their stern examination.

Pompey had crept up to retain an interest in the play-off race, yet against supposed rivals Plymouth they are well adrift.

It would be harsh to round on them for this Pilgrims performance considering the recent eye-catching run, but they simply were not good enough on the night.

And it remains ever more unlikely they will trouble the play-off spots this season.

Cowley made two changes to the side which claimed a goalless draw at Ipswich at the weekend.

With squad rotation once again very much at the forefront of team selection, Joe Morrell and Denver Hume were handed recalls.

They came in for Ryan Tunnicliffe and Clark Robertson, who both dropped to the bench for the Home Park encounter.

Hume’s return saw him handed the left wing-back berth, with Connor Ogilvie taking Robertson’s place on the left of the back three.

Meanwhile, Morrell partnered Louis Thompson in the centre of midfield, replacing Tunnicliffe, who started at Ipswich.

However, there was no place in the 18-man squad for Michael Jacobs, who returned to training from injury on Friday.

Marcus Harness was also absent, serving the final match of a three-game ban following his Accrington red card.

A light show preceded kick-off, a regular occurrence at Home Park before matches, and helped create an excellent atmosphere early on.

When the match got underway, right wing-back Joe Edwards had a great early opportunity to test Gavin Bazunu, only to completely miss his kick down the right-hand channel of the penalty area.

On five minutes, George Hirst won a free-kick some 22 yards from goal, which was taken by Curtis, whose subsequent shot was wide and drew ridicule from Pilgrims followers.

In the 11th minute, Hayden Carter’s superb long pass down the right flank picked out Mahlon Romeo’s run perfectly.

The wing-back cut inside his man and pulled the ball back dangerously, but James Wilson put it out for a corner, while under pressure from Ronan Curtis.

Plymouth had a glorious chance to break the deadlock on 15 minutes after Thompson was dispossessed in the centre of the pitch, sparking a counter attack.

It culminated in Luke Jephcott firing a fierce right-footed angled shot which Bazunu brilliantly saved low down, before smothering the loose ball.

The game was developing into an intriguing affair and when Hume delivered a wonderful cross from the left, Curtis was agonisingly unable to connect in front of goal with a desperate slide.

On the half-hour mark, Danny Mayor fired in a shot from outside the box which was initially spilled by Bazunu, before safely collected.

Romeo became the first player to be booked after throwing the ball away to prevent the hosts taking a quick throw-in while he was out of position.

That was swiftly followed by a yellow card to Thompson following an undoubted foul on Camara on the halfway line.

During first-half stoppage time a flying jump by Bolton saw him flatten Curtis with a blow to the back of the neck yet, incredibly, the foul was awarded against the floored Blues man.

It was goalless at the break, with no substitutions introduced at the interval, as the sides attempted to end the deadlock in the second half.

On 53 minutes, two tremendous defensive blocks inside the box from the Blues thwarted Jephcott, with Hume requiring treatment for his brave role.

Then, at the other end, Hirst dispossessed Michael Cooper only to tumble under the keeper’s challenge, but no penalty was forthcoming, much to the dismay of Cowley.

Yet it was the visitors under most pressure, keeping the Pilgrims at bay with some heroic moments, the latest Romeo producing a flying clearance at the far post.

Cowley responded by introducing Robertson for Hume on 64 minutes, with Ogilvie moving to left wing-back to accommodate the Scot in the middle of defence.

On 65 minutes, the Pilgrims finally had their breakthrough, after Jordan Houghton caught Thompson in possession.

In the ensuing attacking, Camara squared the ball left to Hardie, who drove a finish from inside the box to make it 1-0.

It took several minutes for the match to restart while two green flares were cleared from the pitch, having been thrown around by home supporters during celebrations.

Pompey were being penned in and, on 70 minutes, Cowley threw on Tunnicliffe for Thompson, followed by Tyler Walker for O’Brien.

Then Bazunu beat out Camara’s drive delivered from outside the box and then bravely palmed the ball away as substitute Jordan Garrick closed in on netting the rebound.

On 78 minutes, Curtis beautifully controlled Carter’s cross from the right and cut inside, only to fire his right-footed shot from inside the box narrowly over.

During six minutes of time added on, Tunnicliffe’s right-wing corner found itself to Curtis at the far post, but he dragged his shot wide of the far post.

There was to be no late comeback – and they wouldn’t have deserved it either.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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