Portsmouth 1 Bolton 0 - Neil Allen's verdict - Footballing drudgery difficult to watch, yet massive win for Blues
Sean Raggett branded it a ‘massive win’. He was, of course, correct.
Granted, Pompey’s performance could hardly be portrayed as monumental, while the calibre of opposition clearly wasn’t immense.
Yet, in the context of the unstable narrative presently choking Fratton Park, Raggett’s appraisal was emphatically accurate.
The Blues’ faltering season requires a catalyst, while Kenny Jackett’s sinking footing, amid the backdrop of a support growing increasingly incredulous. craves positive developments to grasp onto.
Victory over Bolton on Saturday was essential, the manner of its accomplishment also critical, preferably with a swagger.
As it was, Pompey fulfilled one of the criteria. Still, sufficient enough to move onto Doncaster with a little more assurance, irrespective of the slenderness of triumph.
With playing confidence on and off the pitch plunging, the 1-0 outcome represented a timely pick-me-up, while a prized clean sheet was tossed in for jolly good measure.
The lacklustre Blues had laboured to victory, not so much a grind, a term many once revelled in, rather dour drudgery.
The opening 45 minutes was as uninspiring as Jackett’s men have been all season, as a consequence the suitably-encouraged 824 travelling Trotters finding their voices.
As the first half drifted lifelessly towards half-time, there was a Fratton end chant of ‘We want Jackett out’, while a number of boos were audible at the whistle signalling the interval.
Then the introduction of Marcus Harness illuminated the smothering gloom – and Pompey had their win.
On the overall balance of play, it was comfortably deserved, particularly in recognition of a second half in which the visitors barely threatened, while the Blues grew to dictate.
This was no breathtaking miscarriage of justice, the boys came good. In the end.
And while Jackett’s side plainly struggle to convince at present, they at least have a second win of the League One campaign to build upon.
It’s a start, a sliver of hope that perhaps, just perhaps, the reversal of playing fortunes is underway as supporter pressure heaps on their manager.
Besides, a fully-fit Harness is now at Pompey’s disposal, representing the most timely of re-entrances.
How the Blues have missed their summer signing from Burton, particularly considering the plummeting form of Ronan Curtis on the opposite flank.
Harness was establishing himself as outstanding business before a thigh injury mid-game at Blackpool deprived Jackett of his talented services.
Leading at the time, Pompey lost their way following his enforced withdrawal – and have still to recover their bearings in league action.
Still, the 23-year-old is back and, while he didn’t necessarily have an influence in Brett Pitman’s match winner, his cameo from the substitutes’ bench invigorated a side screaming out for invention.
Harness possesses the power to serve as the Blues’ catalyst, both in a match situation and also the season. How he is desperately required at this moment in time.
Certainly the under-fire Jackett will be grateful, as he strives to unearth a solution to persuade many of the Fratton faithful to clamber back on board in the belief he is the right man for the job.
Currently embroiled in his toughest period as Pompey boss, against Bolton he unveiled his sixth central-defensive partnership in 13 matches this season.
He also scrapped his long-established playing system in favour of a 4-4-2, featuring Pitman alongside the ever-willing John Marquis in attack.
It produced the desired effect, with the Blues claiming a first league win since Tranmere on August 10 – ending a 50-day wait.
Incidentally, that was also the last time they had registered a League One clean sheet, a statistic thankfully brought up to date as well.
Undoubted positives, regardless of the largely unconvincing performance which accompanied Saturday’s result.
Indeed, pre-match, Jackett’s men were expected to win against a Bolton side thrown together in the final throes of the transfer window following a successful takeover.
They had stabilised in recent weeks, claiming draws against Oxford United and Sunderland, this was not the team of kids which shipped in five or more goals on five occasions early season.
Nonetheless, it was a fixture the Blues would have earmarked for success, irrespective of their own ills at present.
As it was, just Pitman’s 66th-minute header separated the sides.
The decisive moment arrived when James Bolton’s first-time cross from the right picked out the striker at the far post, who rose above Josh Emmanuel.
His header was across keeper Remi Matthews and found the net, much to the relief of all.
Pitman had made amends, having earlier, on 59 minutes, missed only his second penalty of a Pompey career which has proven lethal from the spot, with 10 successes.
Jack Hobbs’ clumsy challenge on Marquis signalled the spot kick in front of the Fratton end, the home faithful even singing Pitman’s name in sweet anticipation of another opportunity converted.
Instead, he struck the left-hand post, with such power that it comfortably ricocheted clear of the Bolton goal to prevent any follow-up attempt.
Yet Pitman – and his team-mates – showed their strength of character to bounce back from that blow and, once the opener had been established, confidence returned, potentially adding to the tally.
There were casualties, however, namely Curtis, as his frustrating season took a dark turn.
Substituted in the 62nd minute following another below-par display, there were cheers among sections of the home support, largely recognising the necessity for his withdrawal.
The Irishman had once again put everything into his display, he should never be accused of lack of heart, but his form has struck rock bottom. In truth, it was cruel to keep him on the pitch that long.
A post-match Tweet by Curtis mentioned ‘Could have done with the 12th man today’, before swiftly deleted following an angry response by many.
His chance on the field of play will come again, but for the time being needs to be taken out of the side for his own sake.
Curtis isn’t alone among his team-mates in search of that absent spark, but Jackett’s troops did enough to overcome a Bolton side which failed to match their first-half endeavours.
It was a massive win.