Wanderers’ lengthy trip down to the south coast on Saturday ended in narrow defeat in what was, as described by gaffer Keith Hill, very much a game of two halves.
Hill once again fielded an attacking minded team, just two faces different to that of the side that started at home to Sunderland last weekend with Yoan Zouma replacing the injured Jake Wright and Daryl Murphy in place of young star Dennis Politic of all people to the supporters surprise, for Murphy to make his Bolton debut.
The home side matched up with an identical set up, however, the southerner’s recent form and discontent with manger Kenny Jacket’s tactics posed an opportunity for Wanderers to further decrease their minus points tally and mark their first win of the season, however it wasn’t to be on a windy afternoon in Hampshire.
The 850 Wanderers faithful who’d made the 250 mile/12 hour round trip were in good voice from minute one as ever, especially buoyed by the introduction of the Whites’ new number 9 from the off instantly making a good impression, putting himself about well and making a nuisance of himself in and around the Pompey back line.
Tricky winger and fans favourite Thibaud Verlinden was also on top form from the very start, making it an encouraging start to the much anticipated fixture for the travelling fans. However, Pompey soon made it apparent they were to be no push overs on this occasion, using front man Brett Pitman as a battering ram and target man, putting youngster Yoan Zouma under pressure on his re-introduction to the side.
Despite the pressure from the hosts headed up by Pitman, there was an element of new found confidence where the fans were concerned upon each Pompey attack whereby Liam Bridcutt was relied on to cut each one out and play out from the back, and he didn’t disappoint, leading the team with such calmness and composure as he has since he joined, expressing his desire to push on and win at every available opportunity. Can we keep him forever?
Besides some encouraging progression from the Bolton boys, there wasn’t much else to report in terms of opportunities and chances from the first half as the two teams went into the break level and despite it being goalless, there seemed to be a potential light at the end of the tunnel as we entered the interval full of confidence and belief that this was winnable and our most prominent chance of a win since, well, last Saturday before McGeady’s penalty.
The boost of a goalless start to the second half aside, it was Portsmouth who started the second half the brighter making good progress down the right which seemed to be somewhat of a weak link for Wanderers on this occasion, however, a particularly attacking threat was well cut out in the final third by Matthews who unfortunately sustained an injury during a collision with a Pompey forward for his efforts. As a result, he received lengthy treatment but luckily was cleared to continue soon after.
Yoan Zouma re-instated Wanderers’ fans trust in him after conceding a match deciding penalty last weekend with an incredible bit of play, making an incredibly timed challenge to recover the ball, storming forward well beyond the half way line as if to go on a solo run, his individual effort ended with a well timed ball down the left to Murphy whose excellent ball across the face of goal dropped to Will Buckley who sadly couldn’t convert the chance that went begging.
Wanderers’ encouraging, floor based play was acknowledged by the travelling fans with the highest praise in the form of the ‘Its just like watching Brazil!’ chant.
In a bid to dash Bolton’s hopes of nicking a win, Pompey responded well, nearly opening the scoring directly from a free kick which took the slightest deflection off Zouma on the end of the wall which could’ve quite easily wrong footed Matthews as it did however Remi recovered well & relatively easily having remained fairly central between the posts for the set piece and managed to palm it away with great improvisation.
With a goal seemingly on the horizon for the hosts following extensive persistence since the break, our fears were confirmed when Jack Hobbs, as I believe Keith Hill would describe it if not similarly, unnecessary, and once again, one kick from twelve yards very nearly cost Wanderers at least a point away from home, luckily Pitman’s effort cannoned back off the woodwork, much to the delight of the away end whose reaction was like that of scoring a 90th minute winner.
However, the jubilance was short lived as Pitman made up for his miss from the penalty spot as he timely met a hanging cross at the back post beating Emmanuel to the header which looped beyond Matthews nestling in the far corner to put the hosts in front which unfortunately amounted to be the winner.
In the search for an equaliser and to turn the game on its head, Hill & Flitcroft introduced Politic around an hour in for his usual partner in crime Verlinden.
Using to this his advantage, Murphy linked up well with Politic which found him set up for a low driven shot across the face of goal on his left which he couldn’t convert but on a mission, continued to push for an leveller in leading the line as soon after, a well weighted Buckley cross was inches away from an onrushing Murphy with the clear intention of producing a glancing header which no doubt would’ve tested, if not beaten Pompey ‘keeper MacGillivray from point blank range.
With none of Murphy’s efforts producing an equaliser and with him clearly tiring on his first game back from injury and in a Bolton shirt, it seemed like it was just going to be one of those days. Hill admitted it was somewhat of a mistake to leave Murphy on for so long but is understandable given I think we all agree with the gaffer in him saying he was our best chance of a reply.
Unfortunately, it did turn out to be one of those days for Wanderers which sadly sees us slip further off the pace and away from the trailing pack in the league.
Rome wasn’t built in a day though, eh?
Not counting Rochdale in the mickey mouse cup on Tuesday, we look forward to seeing if our seeming fate can be changed and our situation can be salavaged somehow starting with that illusive win on Monday in front of the TV cameras at home to local ‘rivals’ Blackpool.