On Sunday, Pompey and AFC Wimbledon embarked on a special occasion for a host of reasons at Fratton Park. Not only was it Pompey’s dedicated remembrance fixture, but it was also the first game since the Paris attacks, and the TV cameras also turned out, broadcasting the game live on Sky Sports. Prior to the game, some poignant tributes were paid to both the fallen in both World Wars, and those who died in the Paris attacks on Friday night. A wreath was laid in front of the Fratton End by Pompey skipper, Michael Doyle, while French duo, Nigel Atangana and Rommy Boco paraded the French flag during the two minutes’ silence. As far as the football was concerned, the game was also an important one, with Pompey looking to earn their first home win in the league since they defeated Barnet in October. AFC Wimbledon included a familiar face in their starting lineup, with Paul Robinson wearing the number six shirt after his release from Fratton Park this summer. The ex-Pompey skipper was given a warm reception by the fans, in front of whom his last act was to head a ball off the goal line, breaking his cheekbone in the process. Pompey’s team selection was a positive one for fans, with Paul Cook yielding to fans’ outcries for a change of formation at home. Cook lined up with a 4-4-2 set up, making two changes from the side who defeated Macclesfield 2-1 in the FA Cup the week before. Marc McNulty came in for Kyle Bennett and Caolan Lavery came in for Conor Chaplin.
Pompey fans were encouraged early on, when Gareth Evans flashed a cross across the face of goal, which Caolan Lavery just failed to get anything onto to divert it into the goal. However, the Blues fans’ hearts were in their mouths after Paul Robinson had a goal disallowed for offside, when he headed home a free kick from the left – hand side. The game continued a a quick pace, when Brian Murphy had to be down quickly to keep out Sean Rigg’s shot, before gathering the ball at the second attempt to keep the Wimbledon striker from scoring the rebound. However, after that, the game seemed to lose its spark, and the ball spent most of the time in the midfield, with neither side being able to keep hold of it for long periods of time. Caolan Lavery had a half chance when he met a Ben Davies free kick from the right – hand side, but couldn’t keep his header down. The hosts then had a penalty appeal turned down, when Adam McGurk had his shirt pulled in the area before a corner, but the referee deemed that Pompey need just retake the corner, which came to nothing. Wimbledon had two more half chances before the break, with Murphy having to gather a George Francombe cross and then see a Ade Azeez shot wide. The half time whistle blew with the score at 0-0.
Early in the second half, Pompey had the best chance of the game, when McNulty dispossessed Paul Robinson before cutting inside of the sliding defender and having his shot magnificently saved from six yards. That livened up the Fratton End, as Paul Cook decided he had seen enough of 4-4-2 and changed to a 3-5-2 formation, bringing on Matt Clarke for Gareth Evans. Pompey came close again to breaking the deadlock, when Christian Burgess came within a whisker of heading in a Ben Davies corner. Sky replays later showed that Burgess was being pulled back by Paul Robinson and, had he gone down, the referee would have had a decision to make. Cook chose to introduce Kyle Bennett in place of Adam McGurk, as he looked to bring more direct running into play. McNulty was played in on goal with 20 minutes left, but a sliding block from Dannie Bulman stopped him from testing the goalkeeper. Nigel Atangana was brought on to replace Caolan Lavery to try and help Pompey keep the ball more with ten minutes left. By the time the 83 minute came along, and Fratton Park paid tribute to ex manager, Bobby Campbell, Pompey were well on top. However, Adam Webster wasted Pompey’s last chance of the game, after five minutes were added on, when he overhit his cross out for a goal kick to the dismay of the Fratton End. However, Wimbledon had the last chance of the game, when a Sercombe cross came within inches of being met by the head of substitute, Adebayo Akinfenwa, but the ball ended up going out for a throw in. The full time whistle was greeted by boos from the Pompey fans, after a disappointing game for home fans and neutrals alike.
The result continued Pompey’s poor home form and reigned them to another 0-0 draw at home. Although Paul Cook changed his formation to the 4-4-2 system fans had been crying out for, the same old problem persisted of not being able to create enough clear cut chaces on home soil. I felt that Pompey’s strikers are not suited to the 4-4-2 system, with them being too small for the direct style of play that is naturally associated with 4-4-2. I think it may be possible to play 4-4-2 when Jayden Stockley returns from injury as he would be able to hold the ball up and play it into the smaller striking options, but McNulty was being used in that role on Sunday, and simply did not have the physical presence to make an impact. Pompey weren’t able to keep the ball for long enough, which is a key aspect of Paul Cook’s teams, and that allowed AFC Wimbledon to match for long periods of the game. In terms of individual players, I felt both Webster and Burgess had solid games, while Enda Stevens and Ben Davies were also reliable, as usual. Kyle Bennett also looked dangerous when he came on, but was unable to get the killer pass away often enough. However, apart from that, I didn’t think enough of the Pompey team turned up, and were not really creative enough on the ball. Sky Sports will have been diappointed with their choice of game to show live, as Sunday’s match never really lived up to expectations. Unfortunately, the game was just fairly poor as a spectacle, and Pompey will be hoping they can do more to change that as they vie to create more clear cut chances at home to end their poor run of form. Next week they make the long trip to Carisle, where they will hope to recover from their first away league defeat of the season at the hands of Notts County, and get back to winning ways.