Clarke Sinks The Shakers

Matt Clarke's header was enough to beat bottom club Bury in a drab encounter at Fratton Park yesterday.

Pompey had the vast majority of the few genuine chances in the game and the first of those arrived when Danny Rose's ambitious long range drive had to be tipped over by goalkeeper Leo Fasan.

Fasan was then called into action later in the first half when the ball was fortunately fed into the path of Gareth Evans inside the box but his shot was blocked by the Bury stopper.

Jamal Lowe had a deflected effort saved whilst Brett Pitman's left footed shot inside the box flew high into the Milton End as a poor opening half of football came to an end. The visitors, led by Michael Smith up front, had offered virtually nothing going forward at this point.

The Shakers did have their first meaningful attempt at goal early after the restart when Jay O'Shea's free kick had to be punched away by Luke McGee and they fell behind soon after when they conceded a corner.

Gareth Evans whipped the ball in and an unmarked Clarke headed it in at the far post. It was as simple as that and although Pompey attempted to increase their lead, their performance continued to be as flat as the Fratton Park atmosphere (fans recovering from Christmas do's and Christmas booze, perhaps?)

Bury's only dangerous moment of the entire match came late on when former Pompey loanee Chris Maguire's free header sailed wide of the post from O'Shea's free kick.

Substitute Ben Close's goalbound shot was pushed clear by Fasan as the match drew to its conclusion and the final whistle blew to confirm another 1-0 victory for Kenny Jackett's men. 

The general consensus following such a tepid performance from the Blues is that they were nowhere near their best going forward but the defence were barely troubled by a team who deserve to be bottom of League One based on their own pathetic showing yesterday.

However, in an alternate reality, if Clarke isn't gifted the winning header, Pompey fans leave Fratton Park moaning about how Kyle Bennett was completely ineffective having been a game-changer last weekend, they would make the same complaints about Lowe and the squinnying would continue as Pitman seems to have gone off the boil recently.

Instead, fans are happy to accept the old adage of "a good team wins whilst playing badly" but it's not as if Pompey were terrible yesterday.

They controlled the game and the defence were left virtually untroubled, with Burgess and Clarke easily dealing with Smith's presence and any long balls Bury pumped upfield in the hopes of winning an aerial battle against two of the best centre backs the division has to offer right now.

Evans also deserves some praise for being the most effective attacking threat on the pitch along with his willingness to do the dirty work in midfield.

So, whilst Pompey were far from their best, they have grinded out a win which now sees them lie outside of the play-off places by virtue that Charlton have scored two more goals than them.

Whilst the Addicks have a game in hand, the gap to 5th placed Scunthorpe has been closed to just four points and they certainly can be caught as the season reaches its halfway point.

Next up is a trip to New Meadow to take on Shrewsbury who currently lie in 2nd place for what is undoubtedly Pompey's biggest game of the season.

Another 1-0 win would do just fine...

Pompey Player Ratings

Luke McGee: 6 - Had a comfortable afternoon.

Nathan Thompson: 7 - Solid contribution.

Christian Burgess: 7 - Typically reliable.

Matt Clarke: 8 - Performances will not go unnoticed by bigger clubs in higher divisions. Need to keep hold of him when January arrives.

Brandan Haunstrup: 7 - Another mature performance.

Danny Rose: 7 - Got stuck in.

Stuart O'Keefe: 5 - Seemed a bit sluggish and gave the ball away too often.

Gareth Evans: 7 - Worked hard and deliveries were good.

Kyle Bennett: 5 - Ineffective.

Jamal Lowe: 6 - Struggled to influence the game going forward.

Brett Pitman: 5 - Limited involvement.

Substitutes

Alex Bass

Drew Talbot

Dion Donahue

Ben Close (O'Keefe 46): 7 - Looked good alongside Rose.

Matty Kennedy

Conor Chaplin (Bennett 60): 7 - Looked bright.

Curtis Main