Clearly League One won’t take quite as much winning this season.
The top two slugged it out at the ABAX Stadium yesterday (September 15). Competitive and physical it most certainly was, but it was also ugly, largely devoid of quality and frustratingly cynical in terms of tactical fouling and embarrassing play-acting and time-wasting.
On the evidence of this game, neither Peterborough United nor Portsmouth can hold a candle to last season’s automatic promotion winners Wigan and Blackburn. Add in Sunderland’s suspect signing policy and Barnsley’s reliance on a giant for goals, and a wide-open League One title race beckons, one that Posh should have a chance of winning.
It make take a modification of the manager’s preferred 4-4-2 system though. Posh only threatened to breach the best defence in the division when substitutes comfortable with the ball at their feet appeared. Getting Marcus Maddison and Jamie Walker into a system that suits their talents could become a priority.
Playing wingers Maddison and Siriki Dembele in the same team would be seen as too much of a defensive risk currently, while using Walker rather than the physical prowess of Mark O’Hara would demand the ball is passed through the middle rather than knocked long.
It may well be Posh will be able to overpower most opponents in League One and they certainly have attacking players capable of finishing a high proportion of chances created, but football is also littered with good starts that lead to very little. Last season at London Road for one.
Only Posh of the four most-fancied title winners play without an actual targetman striker and yet, certainly at home when they haven’t managed to score early, they have needed Ivan Toney’s muscular presence to compete properly. Portsmouth were a typical Kenny Jackett side, well organised and defensively powerful. They repelled numerous set-pieces and crosses with ease, but were carved open in the 93rd minute when the skills of Maddison and Walker and a touch from Toney enabled Matt Godden to show off his finishing ability.
Too little too late obviously, although there was still time for Dembele to strike a clean 20-yard volley at goal, unfortunately it found the midriff of visiting ‘keeper Craig MacGillivray rather than the back of the net.
Pompey deserved their win and a place at the top of the table, but Posh should be confident of overhauling them in the future. One suspects the Posh squad is deeper and logically there should be plenty of improvement in a group thrown together with almost indecent haste in the summer.
But yesterday, after an hour of stop-start football, Irish star Ronan Curtis created second-half goals for Oliver Hawkins and Jamal Lowe to give Pompey an advantage they never looked like surrendering even though seven minutes were added, mostly in response to professional irritant Nathan Thompson’s hopeless over-acting by a corner flag late in the day.
‘Big individual errors’ were blamed by manager Steve Evans as Hawkins was left unmarked to grab his first goal of the season and Rhys Bennett’s sloppy short pass was intercepted for the second Pompey goal. He was right as he was to suggest referee Roger East’s fussy, inconsistent display wasn’t a good look for the standard of Premier League officiating. Dembele, tricky and skilful at times yesterday, is well on his way to becoming the most fouled player in the division.
It was a shame that defeat accompanied the biggest attendance at the ABAX for over five years, but Posh have 19 points from the first eight matches and a four-point lead over Barnsley in third place. Posh also remain the top scorers in the division so one defeat against a likely promotion rival shouldn’t deter the floating fan from a return, hopefully.
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith, Colin Daniel, Rhys Bennett, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard, Mark O’Hara (sub Jamie Walker, 67 mins), Siriki Dembele, Joe Ward (sub Marcus Maddison, 72 mins), Matt Godden, Jason Cummings (sub Ivan Toney, 58 mins).
Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, Josh Yorwerth, Louis Reed, George Cooper.
Portsmouth: Craig MacGillivray, Nathan Thompson, Christian Burgess, Matt Clarke, Lee Brown, Tom Naylor, Ben Close (sub Ben Thompson, 87 mins), Jamal Lowe, Gareth Evans, Ronan Curtis (sub Brandon Haunstrup, 89 mins), Oliver Hawkins.
Unused substitutes: Luke McGee, Danny Rose, David Wheeler, Joe Mason, Brett Pitman.
Goals: Posh - Godden (90 + 3 mins)
Pompey - Hawkins (62 mins), Lowe (76 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Daniel (dissent).
Pompey - Thompson (foul), Hawkins (time wasting), Lowe (foul), Burgess (dissent).
Referee: Roger East 5
Attendance: 10,472 (2,513 Pompey).