Portsmouth 1 Bolton 0: Neil Allen's verdict - Brick by brick, Blues rebuild steadily underway in challenge to restore supporters' faith after season low

These are tentative times, cautious tip-toed progress rather than giant striding advances.

Sunday, 31st October 2021, 9:00 am
John Marquis diverts Ronan Curtis' cross past Bolton's keeper in Saturday's 1-0 Pompey win. Picture: Kieran Cleeves/PA Wire

The agony of Ipswich occurred not even a fortnight ago. Forgive the reminder, yet, in truth, that abject spectacle should never be allowed to be erased from the memory.

May it serve as a marker signifying the consequence of dropping basic standards and the pitiful absence of heart and fight. Unforgivable.

Still, while that 4-0 Fratton Park demolition act reflected a seasonal low in this increasingly humdrum campaign, it also represents the starting point for the desired recovery.

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Slowly but steadily, Danny Cowley’s side are clambering to their feet and dusting themselves down with steely intent and growing belief.

Granted, the response has spanned just two matches, hardly cast-iron evidence that the resurrection of their campaign is well underway with a swagger and a strut befitting top-six challengers.

Certainly Pompey are some distance away from considering themselves even play-off candidates, let’s not try to pretend otherwise.

Nonetheless, that’s now four points from a possible six since that Ipswich debacle. The players were challenged to dredge up a positive reaction – and they have.

Credit should be given when fully warranted and, in this instance, Cowley’s under-fire team have rallied encouragingly, demonstrating commitment and hunger previously rightly questioned.

To stress once again, it has been a mere two games. Regardless, it illustrates progress, hesitant baby steps, but progress all the same.

Firstly there was a draw at Accrington in an encounter the Blues should have won, then it was followed by Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Bolton at Fratton Park.

The latter can hardly be described as a convincing scoreline, after all the Trotters did strike the woodwork on three occasions, but Pompey showed guts to dig in and grind out a triumph afterwards branded by Cowley as the most important three points of their season so far.

Such characteristics were missing alarmingly a few weeks ago – their sudden emergence should now be applauded.

Not that the Blues didn’t deserve to conquer Bolton, once John Marquis netted on 51 minutes they were catapulted into the dominant team and suggested on several occasions they could increase that lead.

Yet they were still required to dig deep and usher home a result which could have been more comfortable than the slender lead which settled the contest.

Tellingly, as part of this recent renaissance, Pompey kept only their second clean sheet in their last 13 matches in all competitions.

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Central to that was the partnership of Sean Raggett and Connor Ogilvie, the new-look defensive pairing Cowley has been forced to look to with injuries and squad shortages elsewhere.

Raggett has been one of the Blues’ best performers all season, such strong displays are these days a given for the former Norwich man.

In the case of Ogilvie, however, Saturday was a tantalising glimpse of what he can offer Pompey following a fitful start to his south-coast career following his August arrival.

The ex-Gillingham defender’s Blues appearances have been sporadic, largely through the form of Lee Brown at left-back and a six-game injury absence.

Nonetheless, in his ninth game for the club, he looked an assured and very capable performer, barely putting a foot wrong, quite in contrast to the 4-1 loss at Rotherham where he was hurried back into the side following a lay-off.

There remains belief within the club that Ogilvie is more suited to operating at full-back rather than in the centre of defence, yet in times of need has been pressed into duty alongside Raggett – and produced his finest Blues performance to date.

Not only was it a rare clean sheet, his man-of-the-match contribution underpinned a second win in 14 fixtures for Cowley’s men. Perhaps another example of this gradual progression.

It appears Pompey have a reliable stand-in while skipper Clark Robertson continues to recover from injury and Paul Downing closes in on a return from a hamstring problem.

For the visit of Bolton, Cowley made one change to the side which performed so encouragingly at Accrington the previous weekend.

Concerned over a groin problem for the in-form Joe Morrell following a busy schedule which included international duty for Wales, he was dropped to the bench.

Instead Ryan Tunnicliffe was handed an instant recall following his omission from the Crown Ground 2-2, promoted to partner Shaun Williams in the centre of midfield.

Although the summer arrival would last just 40 minutes before a hamstring issue forced him off. Even then, Cowley was loath to risk Morrell from the bench at that stage, so went with Louis Thompson.

Regardless, Morrell was finally turned to in the final 12 minutes without any apparent problems and can now be expected to line-up against Cheltenham on Tuesday evening at Fratton Park.

Meanwhile, Cowley was again missing Ellis Harrison and, of course Downing and Robertson, through injury, while Gassan Ahadme was once more overlooked for the 18-man squad.

There was also a positional switch, with Reeco Hackett asked to operate centrally, swapping his right-wing position with Marcus Harness.

The former Bromley man, who is steadily winning over supporters with his performances, also played a role in the decisive goal.

It was his ball from infield which freed Ronan Curtis down the left, the Irishman then taking a touch to get around former Blues loanee Lloyd Isgrove before firing in a left-footed cross.

That was met with an instinctive flick from John Marquis, which bounced into the ground and looped over Bolton’s Joel Dixon.

The keeper managed to get a touch and then desperately threw himself to fingertip the shot away, yet it had already comfortably crossed the line and Marquis had his fourth goal in 16 games.

Before that moment, Gavin Bazunu had tipped the dangerous Dapo Afolyan’s shot against the bar, while visiting left-back Declan John struck the outside of the post.

There was another Pompey scare five minutes from time when Eoin Doyle headed substitute Harry Brockbank’s right-wing cross against the bar, although Bazunu had it covered.

Victory was Pompey’s, lifting them into thirteenth position as they emerge from a bleak period offering optimism and a touch of hope.

This was always going to be a season of rebuilding and, from the last two matches, construction is clearly underway. The key is maintaining that over a sustained period.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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