Portsmouth play patient game at Sunderland as play-off semi-final remains all to play for
Sports writer Will Rooney picks out the talking points from Pompey's 1-0 play-off first-leg defeat at Sunderland...
POMPEY PLAYING PATIENT GAME
As games go for goalkeepers, Jon McLaughlin’s couldn’t have been more straightforward.
Bar Gareth Evans rattling the crossbar from a free-kick, the Black Cats stopper wasn’t threatened at all.
Pompey mustered just two shots on target all game – in truth, it’s actually difficult to remember those.
The Blues played with some attacking reservations at the Stadium of Light.
Despite being lethal on the counter-attack on so many occasions this season, Kenny Jackett’s men didn’t really commit bodies going forward after pilfering the ball back.
But that likely was because there's still another full game to play at Fratton Park on Thursday.
Kenny Jackett stressed there’s 180 minutes of action to focus on in the build-up to the first leg.
Gareth Evans imitated the same while conducting post-match interviews.
Patience is a virtue with plenty of football left to play.
The general consensus before kick-off in Wearside would be a one-goal deficit heading into the second leg wouldn't be all that bad a result – especially with Brett Pitman and Lee Brown both absent.
With all that in mind, Pompey take the tie back to PO4 very much still alive and with the advantage of the Fratton faithful roaring them on.
The Black Cats are slight favourites but if the Blues score early then it pendulum will swing their way.
Forwards lacking lustre
While Pompey didn’t play their usual, counter-attacking style, they probably shaded the first half and saw more of the ball.
However, their three forwards all lacked lustre.
Oli Hawkins bullied the Sunderland rearguard at Fratton Park in December and in the Checkatrade Trophy final.
However, it was the striker who was dominated by Sunderland’s defence this time, with Tom Flanagan mainly taking responsibility to nullify the former Dagenham & Redbridge man.
Ronan Curtis is enduring a wretched spell of form after such a scintillating opening half of the season.
One clever nutmegs early on suggested he could be in for a successful night. But while the endeavour was there, the spark wasn’t.
Most disappointing of all, though, was Jamal Lowe. Pompey’s chief attacking threat was given the weekend off against Accrington to recharge his batteries ahead of the play-off campaign.
Yet Lowe was subdued, scarcely troubling the Black Cats and unable to make an impact.
Viv Solomon-Otabor also couldn’t change the game after coming on.
As Kenny Jackett's side searched for an equaliser after Chris Maguire opened the scoring, it was Matt Clarke who posed the most problems, foraying out from the back but unable to conjure an opening.
If Pompey are to overcome Sunderland at Fratton Park, significantly more from their forwards is required.
News of Lee Brown’s Achilles injury at the Stadium of Light was a blow for Pompey.
The left-back has enjoyed a sound maiden season since his arrival from Bristol Rovers last summer.
Not just reliable defensively, but Brown has been an attacking outlet down the flank throughout the campaign, looking to overlap when possible.
With Ronan Curtis being right-footed, Brown’s presence means Pompey usually have a natural left-footer who can get down the outside and put crosses into the box.
Brandon Haunstrup has had to wait patently for a chance this season, deputising Brown and being an unused substitute in most games.
However, a knee injury means he is injured for eight weeks. You can’t help but feel for the Waterlooville lad.
With Dion Donohue also sidelined, Anton Walkes had to fill in at left-back.
Defensively he was solid, but the fact he’s not a natural left-footer meant the Blues lacked cohesion down that flank.
Brown could be back for Thursday and that would be a significant boost.