Pompey retuned to PO4 seeking to add another win to the sparely populated win column in the League One table. Arriving on Portsea Island looking to put the brakes on their own poor run of form were a Bolton Wanderers side fresh from League Two promotion.
On a delightful afternoon at Fratton Park, a solitary John Marquis goal in the second half was enough to seal a much-needed three points for the hosts, and with it a clean sheet. It marked a second victory in fourteen overall games for the ailing Blues.
Pompey, with Ryan Tunnicliffe starting in place of Joe Morrell who was suffering from a tight groin, controlled the opening few minutes of the contest. Reeco Hackett was looking to pick up where he left off from a promising performance in Accrington, playing behind Marquis, with Marcus Harness on the right flank.
For around fifteen minutes, the hosts were entering the Bolton box at will; but barring a double set of half-chances for Ronan Curtis, being a header on the angle and a shot from a similar position, Wanderers keeper Joel Dixon was relatively untested.
In truth, the first half was a poor affair from both sides, a case study in carelessly losing possession and disjointed link up play. That didn’t stop the visitors from having their own chances before the break. First, Dapo Afolayan bent a left-footed effort from range to the far top corner, only for Gavin Bazunu to go upstairs and tip it onto the bar. Declan John’s winding run into the box saw the second occasion of the woodwork pinging, when his angled drive smacked the outer frame of the near post.￼
Six second half minutes had passed before Marquis added his fourth goal of the season. Hackett fired a lovely ball outside to Curtis that stretched the Bolton defence, allowing Curtis to get beyond Lloyd Isgrove. His ball across goal with flicked towards goal by Marquis, looping over Dixon who despite getting two hands to the ball, couldn’t prevent it from going over the line.
Marquis nearly doubled his tally moments later. Harness spun John neatly on the flank, Marquis picked up and drove past Santos into the box only for his left-footed effort to fly straight at Dixon.
Pompey were in full control following the goal, but were not able to add to their first goal, often killing their own counter-attacks with poor passing, or not applying the finishing touch required in the Wanderers box.
The last fifteen minutes become a nervy affair. The Blues were starting to lose the ball deep into their own territory, and Bolton were advancing. They would hit the woodwork again when Eoin Doyle thrusted a looping header onto the bar. The Blues hung in there, and the three points stayed at home.
What We Learned
That Was Unexpectedly Quiet
Prior to the PO4 clash, Bolton had conceded nine goals in their previous three games, Pompey ten in the same timeframe. Overall, these two sides had conceded 45 goals between them so far this season. All signs pointed to an end-to-end barn-burner that would merit top billing on the highlights show.
Instead, a tepid affair played out for almost the entirety of the first half. In fact, by the time the referee had blown for the interval, there were just two shots on target registered, both from outside the box.
Pompey would add a further three in the second half including the goal, while the visitors would fail to sting Bazunu’s palms at all. The attacking quality from both sides was poor throughout the contest. Bolton didn’t have much interplay in and around the Pompey box, often requiring players such as Afolayan and John attempting to meander themselves into shooting positions. Pompey were eventually generating pressure on the visiting goal in the latter stages, but hesitation and misfiring was the main theme of their efforts. This game promised so much more, and massively under-delivered.
Hackett Grows Again
Following a promising display at Accrington in which he was afforded a lot of space, he was in tighter quarters against an albeit leaky Wanderers side, and again showed the right things. His energy in closing down was notable late in the second half as the Blues began to drop deeper and deeper.
Reeco Hackett’s fervent energy and desire to make things happen on the ball is a credit to him in the face of a Pompey team that’s often been cited for throwing in the towel. Unfortunately for Hackett, his extreme one-footed nature and lack of execution has betrayed him too many times. That might however, be starting to change.
His ball to Curtis for the goal is why the goal itself happened at all. Too often, the ball is switched from side to side too slowly. This allows the defence to shuttle across and taper off the space being opened up. Hackett however, seeing that Curtis was alone on the outside with Isgrove, and fizzed a curling pass out there. This forced Isgrove into either dropping off and allowing Curtis to go at him, or to jump out and pick the pass off. The pass’s pace was too much, Isgrove jumped but didn’t pick, and Curtis was in behind. If Hackett can continue to show this productivity, especially against the division’s better defences (of which most of the division has) then he becomes a real asset to this club. At the moment, he remains a promising work in progress.
Ogilvie Settling In
Pompey’s return to a back four has for the moment stopped the rot of their defensive leakiness. Two goals were conceded at Accrington, yet in the context of back-to-back games with four goals against their name, it’s an improvement. Part of this improvement comes down to the performances in the past two games from Connor Ogilvie.
The man who arrived from Gillingham had not hit the ground running well in a Pompey shirt, yet he stood up well physically against Accrington’s air-raid attack, and put in another competent display at Fratton Park. The Blues have been looking for somebody to partner Raggett in the absence of Clark Robertson. Multiple candidates including Ogilvie had put in previously poor auditions, yet the past two showings from Ogilvie have been more assured, and measured. If this can be built upon by the time more potent sides take him and Raggett on, it could be of huge benefit to the side overall.
Gavin Bazunu – 7 – Under the spotlight recently, he responded well with a brilliant save from Afolayan, and a number of bravely collected crosses.
Mahlon Romeo – 8 – One of his best defensive showings to date, including cutting out a certain goal at the back post. His crossing improved in this one as well.
Sean Raggett – 7 – Not all too busy, but his usual efficient self.
Connor Ogilvie – 7 – His best performance yet.
Lee Brown – 6 – Still allowing the ball into the box too easily from his side. Has this odd habit of closing down to about two/three yards away before turning his back.
Ryan Tunnicliffe – 5 – Lasted 40 minutes before his removal through injury, but failed to stamp any sort of impact on the game.
Shaun Williams – 5 – Likewise an underwhelming display, some bizarre losses in possession.
Marcus Harness – 6 – The brightest starter in the game, and occasionally the creator of a good opportunity, but a sporadic showing.
Reeco Hackett – 7 – Energetic again, kept the hunt going late in the game, and made a key contribution for the goal.
Ronan Curtis – 7 – Pressing Isgrove/Brockbank all game, adds another assist to his tally.
John Marquis – 6 – Goalscorer indeed, hard worker indeed, but a litany of offsides and poor first touches was the theme of his day.
Louis Thompson – 6 – Saw 50 minutes of action. Competent overall, but a terrible pass ended a 4-on-1 counter-attack.
Joe Morrell – N/A – 12 minutes of action.
George Hirst – N/A – Came on essentially as the full-time whistle blew.
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Photo: Below 2020 Media