Portsmouth 1 Gillingham 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Erratic and volatile Blues once again fail to show consistency for automatic promotion

At least Craig MacGillivray is demonstrating consistency befitting genuine promotion contenders.

Sunday, 28th February 2021, 9:00 am
Craig MacGillivray produced an excellent stoppage-time save to deny John Akinde - and prevent yet more Fratton Park agony. Picture: Joe Pepler

Certainly the displays of many of his Pompey team-mates can be regarded as volatile at present, particularly prevalent at Fratton Park during its ongoing residency to mediocrity.

That’s now successive matches in which the Scot has produced stoppage-time heroics to rescue the Blues.

On Saturday, Kenny Jackett’s men were disappointed with a draw against Gillingham, with the manager branding it two points lost during his post-match address.

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Of course, had it not been for MacGillivray, the Blues would have instead been nursing a seventh home defeat of the League One campaign.

Hardly reflective of a side still possessing realistic aspirations of reaching the Championship without venturing through the pothole-ridden play-off route.

Pompey were rightly applauded at the Kassam Stadium on Tuesday night – a 1-0 outcome driven by heart, desire and dogged character.

Yet on Saturday, their erratic nature once again fought its way to the front. The consequence was as unpalatable as Steve Evans and Paul Raynor’s touchline histrionics.

It is breathtakingly naive to expect the Blues to gatecrash automatic promotion spots when they are glaringly unable to string together successive positive displays at present.

Still, at least MacGillivray is proving reliable. Thank goodness.

Against Oxford, there were three excellent stops during five minutes of time added on, thereby preserving a gutsy 1-0 triumph which cruelly stoked up hopes once more.

The follow-up fixture was against 15th-placed Gillingham at Fratton Park, a team which lost 1-0 at relegation-threatened AFC Wimbledon in the week.

During three minutes of stoppage time, substitute John Akinde – a former Pompey player – raced onto a hopeful punt forward to find himself with just MacGillivray to see off.

The keeper stood tall and blocked the striker’s attempt, leaving Evans to declare that if there was ‘justice’, his visitors would have claimed all three points.

The Gills boss had every reason to be bullish, Pompey’s second-half display dipped considerably below a satisfactory opening 45 minutes as his team seized control.

A case in point – the Blues cannot maintain consistency during a 90-minute match, let alone a supposed promotion mission.

This is not a bad Pompey team, far from it, and neither does the squad lack talent, flair, motivation or desire. Let’s make that abundantly clear.

However, since the turn of the year they have been exasperatingly unreliable during a period when Peterborough, Lincoln, Hull to an extent, and Oxford, have ploughed ahead with victories.

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It’s an issue which starts from their frontline. John Marquis has three goals in his last 19 games and Ellis Harrison three goals in his last 22 appearances.

The pair are meant to be spearheading a team capable of reaching the Championship. Now Jackett has turned to a left winger for the solution, while clearly lacks trust in Jordy Hiwula.

In fairness to Harrison, while he lacks a significant cutting edge, he genuinely can be a handful to an opposition defence when on top of his game.

When a dead leg forced his exit on 59 minutes after his knee collided with Jack Tucker as the Pompey man attempted to intercept, the employment of Marquis as his replacement barely created a ripple.

Should Harrison be unavailable for Doncaster on Tuesday night, their former striker will return by default, as regularly appears to be the means for selecting who plays up front these days.

Still, the irritating inconsistency is woven throughout Jackett’s side at present, rather than confided to a spluttering strikeforce.

Lows have followed highs frequently, with Gillingham another strong example of why something remarkable needs to occur if this Blues side are to break into League One’s top two.

Perhaps it will be the reintroduction of Michael Jacobs from injury or the re-emergence of Tom Naylor’s freakish scoring streak.

Maybe it will take Marcus Harness rediscovering that magnificent early season form – certainly there were encouraging signs in that particular instance against Gillingham.

Inspiration is required to escalate this team from play-off contenders into something special. A Kal Naismith, if you prefer.

For the odd impressive result here and there – and there have been plenty this season, especially away – will not be sufficient to earn automatic promotion.

Certainly Jackett did his best to retain the winning formula unearthed at Oxford, only to be denied by a calf injury to Callum Johnson.

Robbed of their Kassam Stadium man of the match and with James Bolton still missing through strained ankle ligaments, one change was enforced for the visit of the Gills.

Haji Mnoga was instead entrusted with right-back duties, representing the second Football League appearance of his career.

Otherwise it was the same 4-4-2, partnering Harrison and Curtis up front and including 10 of the starting XI which performed so admirably against Oxford days earlier.

Yet the team showing was unrecognisable – except MacGillivray’s familiar late intervention.

The Blues started brightly enough, with Harness’ right-footed shot smacked against the right-hand post in the opening minutes and keeper Jack Bonham with two excellent stops fro Curtis and Harvey White.

Then, on 32 minutes, Harness cleverly beat two men down the right and delivered a flighted cross towards the six-yard box.

It was met by Sean Raggett, racing in to head home his fifth goal of the season and hand the Blues a 1-0 lead.

The manner of Gillingham’s equaliser eight minutes later was catastrophic, emanating from nothing more than a hopeful high punt forward from the left.

Raggett met the high ball with a header which drifted across his own box in the direction of Lee Brown.

Stood on the edge of the area, the defender attempted to calmly chest the ball back to MacGillivray, yet instead failed to get enough power on it.

Vadaine Oliver nipped in to steer a first-time shot past Pompey’s keeper and make it 1-1, leaving a horrified Brown with his hands on top of his head.

After the break, Tom Naylor’s near-post header was stopped by Bonham, but too often the Blues resorted to direct methods to find their two-pronged attack as the performance levels plummeted.

On a day Lincoln, Sunderland and Doncaster failed to win, so did Pompey, although clawing back a point on the top two in the process.

Except chipping away is not good enough to claim automatic promotion. Nowhere near.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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