Pompey were held to a 0-0 draw last night at the Checkatrade.com Stadium by Crawley. They went into the game having secured three straight wins in all competitions, most recently against Plymouth Argyle at Home Park. The Blues managed to sell out all 1500 tickets they were allocated for the game, and more supporters still went undercover in the home end. A total attendance 4003 included 1706 Pompey fans. Nearly half of the fans ta the game were routing for Pompey, but judging by the noise level, the ground could have been packed full of Pompey fans. Despite the atmosphere, the game itself was not the most exciting, with Pompey continually trying to pass the ball into the net but being unable to break down a Crawley side that was rarely seen outside their own half. They sat so deep that it was near impossible to work an opening, something that Pompey realised to their peril.
Straight from kick-off, Pompey had all of the ball possession while Crawley kept eleven men behind the ball whenever possible. The opening exchanges brought a few chances for Pompey, as Crawley defenders had to deal with several dangerous looking crosses into the box. After nine minutes came one of the best chances of the match. Nigel Atangana managed to feed Matt Tubbs with only the ‘keeper to beat. However, his shot went far too close to Freddie Woodman, the Crawley shot-stopper, who was able to block the attempt with his legs before diving on the ball before Tubbs could force in the rebound. Crawley rarely threatened, with the exception of a couple of set pieces and counter attacks. On 25 minutes a free kick was swung in from the right – hand side, only to be headed harmlessly over the bar. Pompey had another half chance a few minutes later when Kyle Bennett beat his man down the outside before cutting in and curling a right foot shot narrowly over the bar. It looked like Pompey had taken the lead when a Kyle Bennett corner found Matt Clarke at the far post, but his header was cleared off the line and scrambled away before Atangana could slam the rebound home. The last act of note in the first half was when Tubbs was again in possession behind the defence but a covering tackle by the Crawley centre back ensured that he couldn’t get a shot away. Throughout the first 45 minutes, it was apparent to many in the stands that the Blues seemed to favour the left flank rather than the right, when Ben Davies could often be found screaming for it in acres of space on the right. However, it was Pompey fans who were happier when the teams went in for half time, with it looking like it was only going to be a matter of time before they broke the deadlock.
The second half continued much in the same way as the first had, with Crawley defending with their backs to the wall and Pompey passing the ball around freely within the opposition half. There were a few more half chances and crosses that had to be dealt with early in the second half. Soon after half time, there was concern from the Blues fans when Ben Davies had to be substituted with a hamstring injury. This was worrying for Pompey because as well as being a senior player in the squad, Davies is the only right-back currently on the club’s books. This meant that Gareth Evans had to move to right-back while Adam McGurk came on on the right wing. On 58 minutes, Crawley had a chance when the winger got past Enda Stevens but could only hit the side-netting, sending a cheer up from the otherwise silent Crawley supporters when they thought the ball had gone in. This prompted an even bigger round of ironic cheering from the Fratton faithful when it transpired that the ball had not, in fact, gone in. Some ten minutes later, Adam McGurk hit a tame effort from the edge of the area that was fumbled by Woodman, but the ‘keeper gathered it at the second attempt.
On 69 minutes, Matt Tubbs was fed in by Nigel Atangana and chipped the ball over the ‘keeper into the net. However, the linesman raised his flag for offside. It didn’t look offside from behind the goal and images from the game has proven that the decision was an incorrect one. Pompey seemed reluctant to shoot, and were instead choosing to pass the ball around until they were presented with a golden opportunity. On several occasion there were shooting chances but the forwards overworked it and the ball ended up being lost. On one occasion the ball rebounded nicely for Atangana on the edge of the area with a chance to shoot but he opted to spread the ball wide to Evans rather than have a go himself. On another occasion a lovely piece of link up play between Roberts and Bennett led to the ball falling to Tubbs, but he chose to try and find Roberts rather than shoot at goal and his pass was overhit. With ten minutes to go, Cook brought on Jayden Stockley and Conor Chaplin for Matt Tubbs and Kyle Bennett to try and force the issue and get the winning goal. However, the dominance proved fruitless, as a 93rd minute corner was cleared by Crawley, signalling the end of Pompey’s hopes of coming away with three points.
At full-time, Crawley fans were undoubtedly the happier set of supporters, having battled out a 0-0 draw in the worst possible fashion, but gained a point nontheless. The Crawley players hardly came out of their own half and clearly had no intent to win the match, choosing to play for the draw instead. On a couple of occasions, Crawley players were doing their best to waste as much time as possible, including one occasion when a free kick was given against Pompey and Sonny Bradley, the Crawley skipper and ex-Pompey defender, smashed the ball out of the ground despite it being his ball. I think the game was a useful one for Pompey because it showed them that there would be teams who were prepared to play in that fashion to get a draw, even at their own ground. It showed them that they would not always be able to pass the ball through their opponents, and may prompt Cook to think about employing other, more direct tactics for games such as that one. As far as the fans were concerned, although Pompey should have won that, they were able to appreciate that it wasn’t a bad performance and that they were just nullified by a very defensive system and a less tahn honest style of play. Although fans are disappointed by the result, most would have taken seven points from the first three leage games, two of which were away, and that Pompey are so far on course for a good season.