VERDICT: Portsmouth 1 Fleetwood Town 0

They might be at the league leaders but Portsmouth certainly are no Wigan Athletic, Wolves or Sheffield United when it comes to League One title contenders.

Sunday, 21st October 2018, 8:13 pm
Updated Sunday, 21st October 2018, 8:38 pm
Nathan Sheron in action for Fleetwood

That makes it all the more frustrating then that Town went down with a whimper at Fratton Park.Pompey are top of the league for a reason, and with the talent of Oli Hawkins, Ronan Curtis, Tom Naylor and Jamal Lowe in his ranks, Kenny Jackett has talent and league know-how at his disposal.The fact that Brett Pitman, the man who saw off Town on their last visit to the south coast, did not even make it off the bench testament to how well Jackett’s side disposed of Town.But, let’s face it, they are not a heavyweight of the division; more of a Shrewsbury Town mark two or a side similar to that Burton Albion promotion crop.They are also organised and strong on set-pieces but with a touch of flair and star quality in the guise of Hawkins that the Shrews never had.That is what this game came down to.On paper, this Porstmouth side – unlike the champions of the past – are nothing to fear.That’s perhaps why it was so disappointing to see Barton’s side do just that in contrast to their performances at Sunderland, Scunthorpe United and Doncaster Rovers.Instead, at Fratton Park, they simply looked as if they did not want to lose.Ash Hunter and Wes Burns could not find the space they normally do on the flanks as Town only had two touches of ingenuity in the final third in the whole game.The first was a delightful defence-splitting pass from Ross Wallace that should have sent Lewie Coyle clean through on the left of the area.However, the right-footed left-back tried too hard to get on his stronger foot and the ball went out for a goal kick.The second came after the introduction of Ched Evans, who sparked something up front as Town switched back to a 4-4-2.He fed Hunter on the left but his chip could only be flicked over the bar by Paddy Madden.All in all, Town did not muster a shot on target and – with that attack – it was simply was not good enough.One strike in anger from Ryan Taylor that sailed over the bar was all they could muster after conceding bar that Madden chance, even with boss Joey Barton going route one at the death and sending on Cian Bolger as a centre-forward.

For a man who critiqued previous regimes the other week for defending in their numbers it was all very familiar.On Saturday, Fleetwood set up at Fratton Park for a goalless draw and it was a very similar start to the game at Charlton Athletic when Barton’s side did the same; defend and then hope to catch out their hosts.At Scunthorpe, Sunderland and Doncaster they went for the jugular with early goals setting them up for results.On this occasion, Town went for the frustration tactic.It might have silenced the crowd at times but it was far from the silence that saw a muted admiration of Fleetwood Town on their past away trips.Their normally solid back-line creaked in the first half, skipper Craig Morgan losing the ball to Hawkins who could only curl it wide.That first-half display only boosted Jackett’s men, who could see that Fleetwood were there for the taking.While Wallace, Hunter and Taylor’s set-piece radars were switched off, Dion Donohue’s was not.His corner from the right was flicked on by Tom Naylor into the path of Hawkins, who made no mistake five minutes into the second half.Town keeper Alex Cairns was then almost the architect of his own downfall, his clearance cannoning off Hawkins but just wide of the right post.It would have been a shame given that he barely had anything to do all game with Hawkins’ goal the only effort on target in 90 minutes.However, that proved the saying about how, if teams want to succeed, then taking chances is all they need to do.Nevertheless, with only a one-goal deficit to make up, Town were still in it with the hope that Hunter and his team-mates could finally click at a set-piece.But, as has been seen previously against AFC Wimbledon and at Southend United, once Fleetwood go a goal behind then they cannot find a way back.Porstmouth became only the third team in the division to score first against Fleetwood this season – but the third to take all three points.It then went from bad to worse for the visitors as Nathan Sheron, who had been booked for a foul on Curtis, was ruled to have felled the same man in the 84th minute.It looked like he won the ball but referee Lee Swabey brandished a second yellow card.It had not been the referee’s greatest game, having halted a Fleetwood attack when Jamal Lowe was down clutching his leg, one of many decisions Barton felt he got wrong.However, unlike some of their games thus far the officials’ decisions did not stop Town from getting a result.Instead, switching off on a set-piece, a lack of ingenuity in the final third and poor dead balls all combined to create this whimper instead.They now face another shake-up at the back as Sheron misses out on Tuesday’s trip to Peterborough United.It may be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire but you just want to see that lack of fear return.