Fleetwood Town 0 Portsmouth 1: Second-half strike gives visitors Highbury victory
Fleetwood Town impressed in patches but ultimately fell short in their opening game of the new season with defeat to Portsmouth.
Supporters returned to Highbury high on optimism and were treated to some excellent play, but wastefulness in front of goal meant they fell short as Lee Brown produced the game’s only goal on the hour.
Simon Grayson’s first XI of the campaign saw four players make their Fleetwood debut.
Tom Clarke was at the heart of a back three alongside two familiar faces in James Hill and Danny Andrew, while Shayden Morris and Callum Morton were also given their Cod Army berths.
It was the hosts who made all the early running, led admirably by their new skipper Jordan Rossiter.
Anchoring the midfield, he broke up all of Pompey’s attacks at source while also offering an easy outlet for the backline and looking to bring the wide men into play at every opportunity.
It was a cross from Town’s fourth debutant, Max Clark, that almost brought the Cod Army their first goal with the new season just eight minutes old.
His ball in took a deflection that sent it to the feet of Harrison Biggins, who couldn’t get the connection needed to beat Alex Bass.
Another Clark cross saw Ged Garner and Morton go close twice in quick succession.
The first effort, Garner’s fierce snapshot, was parried by Bass who recovered brilliantly to close down the space and block Morton’s follow-up.
Fleetwood didn’t have it all their own way, however, as Portsmouth went closer to a first-half goal with an excellent strike by Ronan Curtis.
There seemed minimal danger when Biggins gave away a free-kick 30 yards out but Curtis produced a fine effort that had Alex Cairns beaten and just failed to dip in time.
Town were the dominant force in the opening period and should have led at the break but wasted two more than decent chances.
Fleetwood’s man-of-the-match Morris created his own opportunity with a determined run down the right, culminating in a wayward shot.
Their best chance was spurned by Biggins, five minutes before the break.
Clark’s cross from the right fell kindly for the unmarked Biggins but, with the goal at his mercy and Bass struggling to make up ground, he headed yards wide - to the delight of those supporters who had made the journey up from the south coast.
The Pompey fans were almost given even more to shout about 13 minutes into the second half.
Ryan Tunnicliffe's shot was deflected into the path of Gassan Ahadme, Cairns somehow saving at close range, but that was to prove brief respite.
The hosts were undone within a couple of minutes with Tunnicliffe again involved.
His cross came through to Brown who fired a wonderful low drive across Cairns and into the bottom corner.
Though there could be few complaints about Town’s build-up play, they could only produce half-chances in response with their final balls and finishes lacking the quality to salvage something from the game.
Nine minutes from time, Morris’ pass to Brad Halliday led to a neatly-improvised flick, saved by Bass.
In truth, the keeper had not been adequately tested by Grayson’s men, who will hope for better when they travel to Stoke City on Tuesday in the Carabao Cup.
Fleetwood Town: Cairns, Clarke, Hill, Andrew, Halliday, Biggins (Batty 73), Rossiter, Clark (Edmondson 82), Morris, Morton, Garner (Pilkington 73). Subs not used: Crellin, D Johnson, Camps, Holgate.
Portsmouth: Bass, Freeman, Raggett, Robertson, Brown, Tunnicliffe, Ogilvie, Harness (C Johnson 90), Ahadme (Hackett-Fairchild 68), Curtis, Marquis (Hirst 74). Subs not used: Bazunu, Mnoga, Kaba, Jewitt-White.
Referee: Ben Speedie.
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