Portsmouth got back to winning ways at Fratton Park this afternoon and sent a clear message to their promotion rivals: ‘we are a force to be reckoned with.’ The Blues’ unbeaten run has now been extended to five matches and there is a gap of just four points between them and Carlisle in the last automatic promotion spot. Results went Pompey’s way elsewhere as both Plymouth Argyle and Carlisle United suffered defeat, allowing the Blues to close the gap on the top three. Pompey’s next opponents, Doncaster, are now top of the league and are six points clear of the Blues ahead of Thursday’s encounter.
Luton are a very good side and were no pushovers at Fratton Park, with their teamsheet showing as much. Players such as Danny Hylton and Cameron McGeehan would be an asset for any side in League Two and saw Paul Cook revert to his more familiar 4-2-3-1 system for the match. That meant Kyle Bennett coming back into the starting eleven in place of Noel Hunt, as well as Gary Roberts coming back into the fold with a place on the bench. Meanwhile, the match was considered too important an affair to blood new signing Jamal Lowe after his arrival from Hampton & Richmond Borough.
The match started in bizarre fashion, with Pompey being awarded an indirect free kick in the early stages when the Hatters’ keeper, Christian Walton, made a mess of a long kick upfield and handled the ball for a second time without it touching another player. However, the chance came to nothing as Michael Doyle’s shot was blocked on the edge of the penalty area. Both sides were competing well, and the next action of the game saw Cameron McGeehan stretchered off after losing out on a 50/50 challenge with Michael Doyle, with it later transpiring that the ex-Norwich midfielder had suffered a broken leg. It was more bad news for Luton soon after the half hour mark when Christian Burgess rose highest in the area to head home a Carl Baker corner. It was a rare set piece goal for Pompey, although Walton will feel he should have done better after he came for the cross and didn’t get there. Pompey continued to assert their dominance with a series of half chances which saw Kal Naismith and Carl Baker waste chances, before some good work from Bennett saw him cut in off the left wing and lash a shot narrowly wide of Walton’s near post. Gareth Evans then followed suit when he hit a wicked first time shot with his left foot which whizzed over the crossbar from 25 yards out. Pompey then came close to doubling their lead just before the half-time interval when Burgess again met a corner, this time from Kal Naismith, but glanced the header just wide. The first half was by no means as one-sided as it seemed, and both sides enjoyed long spells of possession but with the visitors failing to forge any clear chances.
After the break Evans again threatened, and again Luton’s vulnerability from set-pieces was evident when the winger-turned-right-back met a ball in from the right with a powerful header which was directed straight at Walton, who did well to hold the ball. However, it was the visitors who threatened with the next attempt on goal when Christian Burgess was caught in possession on the halfway line by Hylton. Hylton then broke through one-on-one with Forde and was desperately unlucky to see his chipped effort come back off the crossbar when it looked goalbound. The Blues then wasted an opportunity of their own when Kyle Bennett had the ball outside the Hatters’ penalty box, but the winger chose to feed Michael Smith rather than Enda Stevens and the forward was forced wide before seeing his shot blocked. The away side then threatened once more when a vicious shot from Kyle Vassell was pushed wide by David Forde, with what was Town’s first shot on target.
Pompey found themselves under considerable pressure as the second half went on and Paul Cook felt a change was necessary, bringing on Gary Roberts for Bennett. However, nothing seemed to go right for the talismanic midfielder as he gave away the ball with several of his early touches. However, it was Roberts who was able to carve open the Luton defence when he slipped the ball through to Naismith, but a magnificent covering challenge by Scott Cuthbert denied the Scot a chance to shoot. The Blues found themselves under unrelenting pressure after a string of set-pieces, including long throw-ins, were sent into the box. However, they were able to negotiate the crosses rather better than usual and dispelled the numerous visiting attacks. Pompey opted to change formation once more, bringing on Noel Hunt for Carl Baker in order to give them another outlet in attack. The hosts used their final substitution to try and sure up the midfield by bringing Amine Linganzi on for the more attacking Danny Rose. With just two minutes of the 90 remaining, Pompey were gifted a golden opportunity to secure the win when Johnny Mullins was caught in possession by Michael Smith before the Hatters’ captain hauled Noel Hunt to the ground in the area. However, regular penalty taker, Gary Roberts, will want to forget his effort in a hurry as he skied his spot-kick, making it two missed penalties in three games for the Blues. Thankfully, though, the Blues negotiated the remainder of the match and held onto an invaluable 1-0 win.
Three vital points now mean Pompey are back in the promotion hunt and will go into another six-pointer on Thursday full of confidence. It was refreshing to see Pompey creating so many chances from set-pieces and that will hopefully be a regular occurrence from Pompey matches in future. It was also very impressive to see how well Pompey’s players competed physically, when they are often bullied by more physically imposing sides. It is performances such as this which will result in the blues winning promotion from League Two, and the thing to do now is to make sure they can recreate these performances regularly throughout the rest of the season to add some consistency to their game. Hopefully another great result can be secured on Thursday night in front of the Sky cameras to draw Pompey even close to their goal of promotion.