Portsmouth began their latest new era with an opening day victory over Rochdale after an eventful game at Fratton Park.
Kenny Jackett sprung a few surprises in his first competitive team selection with Drew Talbot chosen to play at right back alongside Jack Whatmough when it seemed like Tom Davies would be the preferred choice. Dropping Kal Naismith to the bench in favour of Gareth Evans also raised a few eyebrows.
Dale dominated the first twenty minutes, in truth, but never really looked like testing Luke McGee as the new Pompey rearguard dealt with everything they had to throw at them.
The turning point of the match came just after, as Keith Keane body checked Conor Chaplin with just the goalkeeper to beat. Referee Lee Probert judged the offence to be worthy of a straight red card for a professional foul and the visitors were down to ten.
To Rochdale's credit, they still looked threatening with the man disadvantage and Keith Hill, hardly the most popular character amongst Pompey fans for comments in previous seasons, has his side well drilled.
There were a couple of chances for Pompey as Pitman headed wide from a corner whilst Christian Burgess had a header cleared off the line, but the first half performance was disappointing with passes going astray and there was some bad news as Tareiq Holmes-Dennis limped off with a knock and was replaced by Jamal Lowe before the break.
Thankfully the Pompey spirits were lifted just after the restart as Pitman received a long ball and shrugged off a challenge before taking the ball into the box and finding the back of the net at the second attempt.
Rochdale continued to have a go and caused a few problems around Pompey's penalty area although McGee only had one save of note to make. Lowe's opportunistic lob of keeper Josh Lillis who had charged outside his box sailed just wide and Kyle Bennett wasted an even better chance to put the game to bed when his angled drive flew over the bar with just Lillis to beat.
The nerves really sank in as Lowe was dismissed immediately for a high, 50/50 challenge on Jamie Allen. In real time you could see why Probert brandished the red card but other referees might have been more sympathetic given that it was a genuine attempt for the ball and not at all malicious.
With the numbers even, Pompey then had to contain Rochdale's attack for the last ten minutes but the game was won in stoppage time when Evans decided to whip the ball into the box for an unmarked Pitman to produce an outstanding looped header into the top corner of the net which gave Lillis no chance.
The final whistle blew to confirm an opening day maximum for the Blues although if Rochdale are an indicator of what an average League One team is, then perhaps people have been underestimating the step up from League Two.
Of course, this was only the first match and there is much improvement to be made. The midfield looked totally disjointed at times and lacked any sort of flow to their play, constantly giving the ball away to a dogged Rochdale side who closed down at every opportunity. It certainly wasn't a performance that we've been used to in terms of dominating possession and creating chances as the game lulled in the second half.
Still, there were some positives to take from the victory, the main one being that Pitman looks like a class above everyone else when it comes to finishing and you just know that he is going to be the difference between Portsmouth winning and not winning a fair few games this season.
However, two of the best performers on the day were Whatmough who won virtually everything in the air and surprisingly Talbot who may have misplaced a few passes but did an admirable job when playing at both right back and left back. He made some crucial tackles and blocks and seemed to be everywhere. Could this mean a run in the side for a man who seemed to be near the top of the list to leave the club this summer?
Overall, as the manager said, we have to be happy with the three points but there's still much work to be done both on and off the pitch if Pompey are to be considered promotion contenders this season. Yesterday's game highlighted just how much the midfield misses a player like Michael Doyle, so finding a replacement for him is top priority.
Next up is a trip to Cardiff for the first round of the League Cup. Perhaps Nicke Kabamba will play and actually make his new Tequila tune relevant!
Pompey Player Ratings
Luke McGee: 6 - Alert when he had to be.
Drew Talbot: 8 - Did an excellent job in both full back roles.
Christian Burgess: 7 - Made a couple of important blocks.
Jack Whatmough: 8 - Won nearly everything.
Tareiq Holmes-Dennis: 6 - Looked bright until injury. Hopefully it isn't serious.
Danny Rose: 7 - Always busy.
Carl Baker: 5 - Gave the ball away far too often.
Gareth Evans: 6 - A solid showing.
Brett Pitman: 8 - Looks to be a class above.
Kyle Bennett: 6 - Should have scored.
Conor Chaplin: 6 - Involved in the game changing incident but wasn't as threatening as he could have been.
Kal Naismith (Chaplin 71): N/A - Had little impact.
Jamal Lowe (Holmes-Dennis 31): 5 - Not a day to remember.