Portsmouth 0 Sutton United 2: Neil Allen's verdict - Embarrassing Blues suffer Fratton Park humbling as fringe players flop and injuries pile up
As if the scoreline and performance wasn’t embarrassing enough, the travelling support delivered another brutal blow to Pompey pride.
The unmistakable rendition of ‘Can we play you every week’ rose from their 198 following situated in South Stand’s lower section.
Leading 2-0 with 19 minutes remaining, fans of the League Two outfit had every justification for boisterous gloating.
The Football League newcomers had outperformed – and outscored – a wretched Blues in the Papa John’s Trophy group stages.
If Pompey’s lacklustre display in a goalless first-half was bad enough, Sutton found goals to rubberstamp their superiority after the break.
Isaac Olaofe and Louis John each registered to secure an unexpected triumph in the first Football League encounter between the teams – and the Blues can have absolutely no complaints.
Head coach Danny Cowley had made eight changes to the side which destroyed Sunderland in their last outing, nonetheless the team still brimmed with experience.
This was no youthful experiment, throwing in Academy players for crucial first-team exposure to aid development, as Pompey have often done in recent years in the competition.
Indeed, aside from three youth-team players on the bench, it represented a first-team squad on display at Fratton Park.
Bearing that in mind, the outcome was certainly a concern as Cowley’s fringe players flopped alarmingly, providing little to admire, Louis Thompson aside.
To add to the gloom, Paul Downing didn’t complete the first half before picking up yet another injury in his frustrating Pompey career.
He was soon joined in the treatment room by substitute Ellis Harrison, lasting 10 minutes before also limping off.
As it happened, by that stage Cowley had already used up his allocation of substitutes, ensuring the Blues faced the last 25 minutes with 10 men.
Admittedly that numerical advantage hampered any sort of rescue mission, yet it would be unfair to table that to excuse such an abject display.
Pompey deserved their fate, no question about it. Now Cowley must deal with two more injuries and a number of first-team audition pieces which fell embarrassingly flat.
To think the Blues had approached the occasions by declining to hand Academy youngsters an opportunity, having granted 19 debuts in five seasons.
Instead the 18-man squad contained just Toby Steward, Harvey Hughes and Izzy Kaba from the youth team, with all named on the bench.
Instead, Cowley handed a recall to Gassan Ahadme, following six matches out of the squad, while George Hirst was granted a rare start during a low-key loan spell to date.
Elsewhere, Haji Mnoga, who has struggled for matches at Bromley on loan, was selected for a midfield role alongside Thompson.
Meanwhile, Cowley retained the back three system he had fielded in the previous four fixtures, with Paul Downing, Sean Raggett and Lee Brown in the centre.
That left Mahlon Romeo and Reeco Hackett-Fairchild operating as the right and left wing-backs respectively.
On the bench, Kaba and Hughes were involved after impressing in last week’s friendly 3-0 win over Bournemouth, with Academy team-mate Steward joining them.
The substitutes were bolstered by experienced quartet Kieron Freeman, Shaun Williams, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Harrison.
Pompey started encouragingly enough, full of drive and attacking intent to encourage the sparse crowd present.
On 12 minutes, Thompson won a free-kick 25-yards from goal, yet Hackett-Fairchild’s delivery smacked against the legs of the wall.
Sutton carved out an opportunity in the 18th minute when Will Randall’s left-wing corner was met with a header from Joe Kizzi.
Fortunately for the Blues it flew straight into the arms of Alex Bass, although play had to be stopped with Mnoga picking up a knock during penalty box jostling.
Yet, disappointingly, the game had swiftly become stagnant, with barely an entry into either penalty area and few opportunities being created.
There was a rare moment of excitement for the Blues when Thompson surged forward and let fly with a powerful right-footed shot.
However, it cannoned off the flying body of Coby Rowe and bounced to safety when it initially appeared the effort could cause keeper Dean Bouzanis problems.
On 43 minutes, Downing had to be substituted through injury, with Freeman replacing him as the right-sided centre-half.
It appeared to be yet another blow to the career of Downing, now into his third season of a frustrating Fratton Park stay.
A drab first half was brought to a close after four minutes of time added on as the sides went in at the break goalless.
Cowley unsurprisingly made a change for the second half, with Williams coming on for Mnoga in midfield.
On 47 minutes, Tobi Sho-Silva’s left-footed snap shot had Bass making a diving stop, although never threatened the goal.
The deadlock was broken on 55 minutes and Sutton deserved it considering their approach to the game.
Ricky Korboa crossed from the right, with Olaofe’s initial shot blocked by Freeman, before bouncing kindly back to the striker.
This time he made no mistake, dispatching it into the bottom corner to hand the visitors a 1-0 advantage.
Harrison had already been poised to be introduced into the action and, sure enough, he was immediately introduced for Ahadme.
Sutton made their first substitution on 61 minutes, with goalscorer Olaofe replaced by Enzio Boldewijn.
Pompey suffered another injury blow on 65 minutes when substitute Harrison went down under a challenge from a Sutton defender.
The striker came off the pitch shaking his head and, despite trying to run on the touchline, soon admitted defeat and headed back to the dressing room.
With Pompey having used all three substitutes, that left Cowley’s men down to 10-men and losing 1-0 as their chances of finding a way back into the match lengthened considerably.
Yet Sutton extended their lead on 71 minutes following a free-kick from the left delivered to the far post.
Kizzi headed it back across goal and there was Louis John to lash a left-footed shot into the net from around six-yards out to make it 2-0.
The League Two side were galloping away and the Blues were struggling to even threaten the opposition’s penalty area to suggest a comeback was possible.
Sure enough the hosts limped to the final whistle, barely able to raise themselves for the grandstand finale they so desperately required.
As it was, the outcome was an embarrassment – yet fully warranted.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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