Saddlers Sink Pompey
By Jim Bonner
Updated Sunday, 16th September 2012
Portsmouth 1 Walsall 2
The wait for a home win in the league continues following another frustrating performance and a defeat at the hands of Walsall.
The story of this game could be summed up in the very first minute as Kevin Long's short backpass to Mikkel Andersen allowed Jamie Paterson a free shot at goal, which was thankfully struck straight at the goalkeeper.
That set the tone of the game as too often during the match Pompey would cheaply give the ball away or resort to the useless long ball and then get caught on the break.
Pompey did create a few attacks as Luke Rodgers found Izale McLeod with a great through ball but his shot was blocked whilst Darel Russell missed a free header from a corner.
Just as the hosts were piling on the pressure later in the half, the visitors almost scored on the break as Paterson was found in the six yard box but Andersen's reflex save denied him a goal.
The whistle blew for half-time with Pompey fans believing that they'd see better football in the second half.
That seemed to be the case early on as some good football saw McLeod fail to score from all of a yard as David Grof blocked his shot, although the offside flag was raised to spare his blushes.
However, the game settled into its familiar pattern and Walsall took the lead with a well worked move that ended with James Baxendale hammering the ball into the top corner from the edge of the box.
Soon after Walsall were awarded a soft free kick and took full advantage. The initial ball into the box was cleared but former Pompey youth Florent Cuvelier was lurking on the edge of the box to score and really change the mood at Fratton Park.
Pompey did pull one back when Howard made his way into the box and his shot fell kindly to McLeod, who blasted the ball into the net to reduce the deficit.
There were a couple of half-chances for Appleton's men after the goal, namely when Howard's ball across the goal was narrowly missed by the lunging Rodgers.
But Walsall always looked more likely to score when they had the ball and that fact was underlined when Will Grigg hit the crossbar with his shot from 25 yards.
That was the last meaningful action of the game as the final whistle was greeted by a smattering of boos from the Pompey fans who were left to assess another poor performance at Fratton Park.
My view personally is that Pompey were too patient and didn't up the tempo quick enough and when they tried, they gave the ball away. It was like we had a team full of Richard Hughes' at times yesterday, with nobody willing to make a forward pass.
Unsurprisingly, Pompey's best chances came when the ball was played along the ground and you have to wonder why our side kept playing long balls to two forwards who are never going to win a header or hold the ball up for others.
The midfield was partially to blame for this. Ashley Harris was given a start at left midfield after his heroics at Crawley but was never in the game, Lee Williamson looked out of place on the other flank and I fail to see what Darel Russell adds to the team.
The defence made some mistakes and it was no surprise that Pompey conceded after Long limped off injured. Josh Thompson did look capable but he will need time, but Mustapha Dumbuya needs to play further forward and Jon Harley is painfully average.
There can also be some criticism aimed at the manager, who certainly isn't exempt from it. For once, he had a full set of substitutions and yet didn't make any tactical switches until Jack Compton came on for Harris after 81 minutes.
How is he supposed to change the game with all of nine minutes to go? Why didn't he start? Why wait so long to change things when we're on the back foot?
The bottom line is that this is what life in League One is like. The last couple of home games have hammered home the point that our team is made of rejects from other teams and untried youngsters who need time to bed in. Unfortunately, that is a recipe for relegation, all the more soured by the incoming ten point deduction.
On a final note, Walsall deserve credit for their performance yesterday. In the context of the quality of this division, they are the best side that Portsmouth have played against this season, keeping the ball on the deck and tactically sound.
That has restored a little faith in League One football. I just hope that Pompey do not succumb to playing the long ball game, they showed in their first two games that they are capable of playing good football and so that needs to return quickly or it will be League Two football next season.
Pompey Player Ratings
Mikkel Andersen: 6 - One great save but distribution needs improving.
Mustapha Dumbuya: 6 - Showed some skill but didn't do anything meaningful with the ball.
Josh Thompson: 6 - Improving game by game.
Kevin Long: N/A - Hopefully his injury isn't too bad.
Jon Harley: 5 - No real impact.
Lee Williamson: 5 - Not very impressive and yet somehow got voted man of the match.
Darel Russell: 4 - Missed a sitter and kept giving the ball away.
Brian Howard: 6 - Central to most of Pompey's good play, but couldn't keep hold of the ball.
Ashley Harris: 5 - Rarely in the game.
Luke Rodgers: 6 - Worked hard as always.
Izale McLeod: 6 - Can't win a header and is always offside, but at least he scored.
Liam Walker (Long 44): 5 - Couldn't influence the game.
Jack Compton (Harris 81): N/A - Should have been given more time.