Eastern Road Debrief: Portsmouth 1-1 Cheltenham Town – Mid-Table Mediocrity

By Ryan Stillwell

Following a rare win in the 21/22 season on Saturday, Pompey looked to double down on that success with another game in PO4. Another promoted side from League Two, this time in the form of Cheltenham Town, were the latest side to take on Danny Cowley’s Blues, seeking to consolidate their position in the third tier.

What transpired over the course of ninety unremarkable minutes at Fratton Park was peak middle eight football. Two sides that neither excel in any department, nor have a crippling weakness that threatens their safety in the division, played out a tepid affair which screamed mediocre. In the end, a goal apiece in the first half was all she wrote, and Pompey extended their abysmal run to two wins in their last fifteen games.

Overview

Two changes were made from the side that beat Bolton Wanderers, with Louis Thompson and Joe Morrell stepping in ahead of Shaun Williams, and the injured Ryan Tunnicliffe. The structure remained the same for the Blues, while a minor tactical surprise was sprung by the Robins, opting to employ a flatter 5-3-2 than their oft-used 4-4-2 Diamond.

Pompey’s somewhat irrelevant record of not conceding within the first fifteen minutes of a game was dashed within six minutes of this one, when Reeco Hackett was caught flat-footed at a long throw-in, the ball bouncing off his heel, and dropping to Lewis Freestone; whose shot on the turn flew past a similarly flat-footed Lee Brown, and underneath Gavin Bazunu.

Pompey may have been playing Cheltenham, but they certainly weren’t at the races during an insipid opening forty-five minutes. A myriad of poor first touches marred much of the Blues attacking threat, save for multiple dangerous balls into the box from Marcus Harness, and the usual energy from Ronan Curtis and Reeco Hackett.

A surging run from the halfway line by Thompson resulting in an angled effort being tipped over, and a miscued Hackett header from a Harness cross was all the hosts could offer in the opening stages, until the latter would equalise just after the half-hour mark. Mahlon Romeo’s near post cross was punched away by Scott Flinders before it reached John Marquis, falling to Hackett whose Dambuster effort looped into the empty net. 

Inexplicably, the two sides entered half-time on level terms. A dinked ball into Kyle Vassell evaded a slack Sean Raggett, and with all the time in the world at his disposal, Vassell slipped as he struck, the ball flying wide from point-blank range.

The second half saw near total domination from the Blues. Cheltenham would fail register a shot on target, while several Curtis deliveries into the box failed to be converted by various blue shirts. The notable chances involved Marquis stinging the palms of Flinders on a counter-attack, Curtis planting another dangerous Harness delivery into the side netting, and another Flinders save from a Raggett header.

Curtis would have the best chance of the second half to secure three points, when a Harness cross deflected across the box. Curtis swung his run to latch onto the ball, but he wildly lashed at the neatly-presented size five, and it flew high into the Fratton End. One point was the total earnings for the evening.

What We Learned

Nothing

This segment would normally consist of two or three takeaways from a particular game, or a point that embodies something about the squad/strategy/club. The latter is essentially as close as this game gets.

Nothing was learned in this affair. There was nothing new or interesting in this clash. There were no new positives, no new negatives, no new niche tactical nuances that influenced the flow of the game. In short, this uninspiring Pompey side is an open book, the pages almost identical with every turn. This includes the weekly edition of:

“Portsmouth FC @Pompey | 1m

George Hirst replaces John Marquis up top.

#Pompey”

True insofar as Pompey did control the second half, but that pales in the moonlight of a series of poorly-executed half-chances, with the occasional good chance also failing to find its way in. The ERD has posited the potential of a mid-table finish since day one, and nothing in this game separates Pompey from the concept of mid-table obscurity after forty-six games.

Player Ratings

Gavin Bazunu – 6 – A quiet night for the keeper. Another good array of distribution.

Mahlon Romeo – 6 – His cross created the equaliser. Not his most productive evening.

Sean Raggett – 6 – Mostly efficient outside of falling asleep for what should have been a nailed-on Vassell goal.

Connor Ogilvie – 6 – No major errors.

Lee Brown – 5 – Not involved going forward much, very poor defensively for the Robins goal.

Louis Thompson – 7 – Very comfortable on the ball in his first league start, driving through the middle third and asking the right questions. Full match fitness right now is his objective.

Joe Morrell – 7 – A typical Morrell performance, a typical Morrell grade. 

Marcus Harness – 7 – Often the subject of a poor first touch or bout of indecision, some of his crossing on the evening however was spectacular.

Reeco Hackett – 6 – A goal indeed for Hackett, but it papered over an evening of some really poor execution in big moments. Energetic as ever.

Ronan Curtis – 6 – Some bright moments would potentially warrant a higher grade, but that miss near the end to win stains his evening.

John Marquis – 5 – “that goal will do his confidence a world of good” didn’t ring true. Not instinctive enough in front of goal, didn’t cause enough problems.

SUBSTITUTES – 

Shaun Williams (20 mins) – 6 – Didn’t have much to do.

Miguel Azeez (17 mins) – 6 – The odd flash of ability.

George Hirst (9 mins) – 5 – It’s hard to see what he offers this side.

To keep up to date with Eastern Road Debrief content, follow @PompeyViking62 onTwitter.

Photo: Below 2020 Media

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