Portsmouth 1 Shrewsbury 0: Neil Allen's verdict - Inspirational Ryan Tunnicliffe stars again to drive victorious Blues to League One summit
There’s a curious statistic that Ryan Tunnicliffe has been involved in all Pompey’s League One goals this season.
Previously there were three assists – tonight it was the matchwinner against Shrewsbury.
A magnificent early-season contribution from the midfielder to lift the Blues to the top of the table, albeit still in August.
The former Manchester United man struck with just 120 seconds on the clock. If anything it stoked up the fire in the belly of a resilient Shrewsbury.
Steve Cotterill, who once spent 16 months as Fratton Park manager, has assembled a talented and powerful side, despite a poor start to the campaign.
Certainly they didn’t capitulate after that early body blow and, in the end, Pompey were clinging onto their victory during 10 minutes of time added on.
Not that the Blues didn’t warrant the triumph, far from it. They dominated possession and, in Ronan Curtis, had one of the game’s most outstanding performers.
Yet the slender lead prompted a nervy finale as Cotterill’s men flooded forward for the equaliser, delivering cross after cross into the box. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful.
The outcome was three wins out of three for Cowley’s overhauled squad, with no goals conceded.
And, of course, a total of four, for which Tunnicliffe has been at the heart of.
There are stiffer tasks to come, with Doncaster and Wigan immediately on the horizon. Although, having said that, Doncaster have endured a disastrous start.
Nonetheless, it has been a fine start from Cowley’s troops, with their latest win watched by 14,471 - 3,001 more than Saturday’s disappointing attendance.
They will have departed Fratton Park heartened by a gutsy performance and more encouraging signs that Cowley is potentially on the right track.
Unsurprisingly, the Blues’ head coach named an unchanged side for Shrewsbury’s visit.
The same starting XI had secured an impressive 2-0 victory over Crewe at the weekend, with the Blues’ head coach seeing no reason to alter it.
That meant Reeco Hackett-Fairchild continuing in the side having the previous week been granted Pompey full debuts in the Carabao Cup and League One.
With Cowley still searching for a number 10, the former Bromley man has impressed in the interim after entrusted with a regular spot.
Elsewhere, Joe Morrell was again on the bench as he awaits a maiden Blues start following his arrival from Luton for an undisclosed fee.
With Ryan Tunnicliffe and Shaun Williams the preferred central-midfield pairing at present, the Wales international must bide his time a little longer.
He was joined on the bench by fellow new additions Connor Ogilvie, Gassan Ahadme and George Hirst.
It took just 120 seconds for the Blues to take the lead, with man of the moment Tunnicliffe supplying it.
The midfielder started the move off by feeding Marcus Harness inside and then surged across the box to receive the return.
His team-mate obliged, with Tunnicliffe taking a touch on his right foot before calmly stroking a left-footed finish into the far corner of the net to make it 1-0.
Shrewsbury responded immediately, with Gavin Bazunu diving to his left to keep out Elliott Bennett’s low shot.
Then Tom Bloxham followed up to rifle a first-time attempt over the bar and into the gloating Fratton end.
On 16 minutes, Tunncliffe’s attempted right-footed cross from the half-time was mis-hit and ended up drifting towards the Shrews’ goal.
However, the backpedalling Marko Marosi managed to keep his focus and caught it not far from his goal line.
Moments later, Ronan Curtis received the game’s first booking after catching Bennett with a slide challenge from the side.
Shrewsbury had responded well to the early goal, looking a decent team and offering a regular threat coming forward.
On the half-hour mark, the all-action Tunnicliffe battled his way through to give the ball to Hackett-Fairchild, and his left-footed shot was deflected for a corner.
That was delivered from the left and fell kindly to Clark Robertson inside the box, yet the defender was brilliantly blocked by Matthew Pennington as he attempted to take a second touch.
Then Harness deftly touched the ball into the path of Hackett-Fairchild, who surged into the box and struck a shot wide, although a challenge from a defender put him off.
With Pompey 1-0 up at the break, they made a double substitution.
Firstly, Harness was replaced by Gassan Ahadme, with Hackett-Fairchild pushing out wide to right to accommodate him centrally.
In addition, Clark Robertson was replaced, despite appearing to come out for the second half, with Connor Ogilvie suddenly called into action and Lee Brown taking the captaincy.
On 51 minutes, Bazunu was called into action to push Luke Leahy’s angled shot away for a corner.
Then Leahy flashed a shot across goal from the left which was crying out for a final touch, yet found none.
On 54 minutes, Josh Vela was deservedly booked after taking out Williams late having passed the ball to Marquis.
Then a wonderful deep cross by Curtis from the left picked out Hackett-Fairchild at the far post, yet the attacker couldn’t manage to steer a header on target.
At the other end, Vela drove in a right-footed shot from the edge of the area, but Bazunu got down low to deal with it and smother.
On 64 minutes, Hackett-Fairchild’s cross from the right was met with a header by Ahadme, only for him to clash heads with Pennington.
Ahadme had collected a cut to the head, with blood prominent, and had to require treatment on the pitch, as did Shrewsbury’s defender, yet was able to carry on sporting a bandage.
With full-time approaching, an awful pass back from Marquis gifted possession to the visitors, with a cross flung in and Aaron Pierre meeting it with a powerful far-post header.
Thankfully Bazunu was a match for it, also sparing Marquis’ blushes in the process.
With 10 minutes of time added on, it was a nerve-wracking finale for the hosts, yet they came through it with excellent defending to claim victory to an almighty Fratton roar.
The excellent start continues – the hope edging upwards with each positive result.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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