The final act of a Fratton Park triple-header took place on Saturday when Morecambe made the long journey down to PO4 to take on a Blues side that had spent the last two months looking to bring their season back to life following a turgid run of form that had seemingly marooned them in 17th.
A solid if unspectacular afternoon at Fratton Park saw a dogged Pompey side continue their renewed momentum, collecting a fourth consecutive League One clean sheet in the process, with a 2-0 takedown of League One newcomers, Morecambe.
The Shrimps arrived on the South Coast with a tactical surprise in hand. Ditching their oft-deployed 4-3-3, perhaps on the back of conceding nine goals in two games, Cole Stockton found himself with a striker partner of Jonathan Obika, with Adam Phillips often supplementing the attack in a 3-4-1-2 system.
The hosts lined up in the same fashion, and indeed the same lineup relative to the side that played out a 0-0 draw against Sheffield Wednesday.
The first few minutes played out in much of the expected fashion. Morecambe had changed their shapes, but not their approach. Their direct balls into the channels, skipping the middle third of the pitch failed to trouble the home defence; while the Blues were looking to control the flow of the ball.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was a Pompey breakaway that yielded the first goal. Ronan Curtis broke out of a scramble just inside his half to send one over the top for George Hirst. Hirst rounded Shrimps goalkeeper Brad Letheren twice, before his effort was blocked on the line. Miguel Azeez somehow dinked the post twice from no more than two yards, before Marcus Harness decided to end the goal-line scramble and rustle the net.
Much of the half was played in relative obscurity following the goal. A Cole Stockton effort on the turn was met by Gavin Bazunu, while several Pompey potshots either flew into the Milton End, or straight into Letheren’s arms.
The little that Morecambe had in the half was of Pompey’s own making. A series of possession losses in their own third saw the Blues scrambling defensively into the box to form a new line, surviving each scenario. There were better passages of interplay that moved Danny Cowley’s side up the field with some regularity, yet through a combination of not making the most of the space, or some questionable deliveries into the box, the scoreboard didn’t look like ticking over for a second goal.
The second half started in the favour of the visitors. Pompey’s turnover of possession was occurring a little too frequently, and the Shrimps were able to advance on the Pompey box. Despite this, Bazunu remained relatively untested, the core back three of the hosts putting in a competent display for much of the afternoon.
Eventually, the Blues found their own footing in the second half after a ten-minute spell of siege defence. The first real chance saw Curtis alone at the back post when a dinked cross met his head, only for it to drop centrally for Letheren to gather.
As the second half entered a middle period lull, uncertainty crept around the stadium as Morecambe again wouldn’t just go away quietly. A cheap series of fouls and turnovers continued to keep the visitors alive, until Connor Ogilvie decided to put the game to end. Azeez’s corner found an unmarked Ogilvie aligned with the back post, his downward header marking his first for the club, and Pompey’s first headed goal in the league this season.
Outside of a spectacular Bazunu save, tipping a Phillips ripsnorter onto the bar, the game petered out to the final whistle; and a resurgent Pompey side, while not particularly impressive in this win, extended a brilliant run of form that has lifted them into 8th.
What We Learned
Ogilvie Lays Down The Gauntlet
A shaky start to his Pompey career is very much in the rear-view mirror as the ex-Gillingham man has stepped into the fold alongside Sean Raggett to form the best partnership in this new side to date.
Competent performance has followed competent performance, and the results are following. Pompey now haven’t conceded in nine halves of football. Blues skipper Clark Robertson returns from injury this month, and had been deployed to Raggett’s Port shoulder; but Ogilvie has more than made a case to remain there. If so, a new-look back three may see Robertson pushed to Raggett’s Starboard side, or see Raggett pushed to the right with Robertson in the centre. Either way, Ogilvie has made a compelling case to remain in the fold.
Azeez Slowly Getting There
By no means was it a stellar performance, in fact it was at time pockmarked by some uncomfortable losses in possession and trampoline first touches; but there were continued glimpses of Azeez getting up to speed and understanding of the men’s game.
Focusing the positive aspects, Azeez from a deeper role was more involved in link-up play across the field of play. It wasn’t glitzy play; but it was play that kept the ball moving around, ducking in and out of areas to relay the ball along, moving defenders around. There’s a long way for him to go, yet at times he appeared to understand his role and the basic needs of it more than he has previously. His corner for the goal was also dropped right onto Ogilvie’s head.
Gavin Bazunu – 7 – Didn’t have much to do overall, but added to his highlight reel with another amazing save.
Kieron Freeman – 5 – Losses in possession, including one in his own box, tainted a competent defensive showing.
Sean Raggett – 6 – “And Raggett wins the header”
Connor Ogilvie – 8 – Made a vital block to prevent Stockton from having a point-blank effort. Also ended the content with his first goal.
Mahlon Romeo – 6 – A very quiet game.
Reeco Hackett – 5 – Had no real impact on the game. His total lack of right foot limited him too much on this one.
Shaun Williams – 5 – Careless first touch, careless passing, Morecambe pounced on too many of these.
Miguel Azeez – 6 – Jekyll and Hyde performance, but his assist pulls him to the good side of average.
Marcus Harness – 6 – Decided that the playground goalmouth scramble was not for him. Dinked a nice ball for Curtis’s header.
Ronan Curtis – 6 – Some nice breakaways, less effective in close quarters. Should have added a goal. Shooting off-key.
George Hirst – 6 – Nice work for the goal, quiet game outside of that.
John Marquis (20 mins) – 5 – No real impact.
Ellis Harrison (10 mins) – N/A
Ratings are mostly middle of the road because that’s exactly what this game was. Pompey have played much better, and much worse than that. It was an average game put to bed late on.
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