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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Portsmouth must find a bit of magic to make the playoffs

Defence solid but more imagination needed

Portsmouth forward Brett Pitman
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Sky Bet League One
Portsmouth 0  Shrewsbury 1
                         Bolton 21

Considering their chairman was head honcho at Disney for 21 years it is quite ironic that the one thing lacking in Portsmouth's play is a bit of magic.

Pompey did not deserve their 1-0 defeat against Shrewsbury at Fratton Park on Saturday but, having conceded to the unlikely source of James Bolton from a set-piece, there was no way back for the hosts in difficult conditions.

Kenny Jackett's side need to find five points on sixth-placed Rotherham if they are to squeeze into the playoff positions, although a lack of goals seems likely to keep Pompey in Sky Bet League One.

No team in the top half has scored fewer than their tally of 34.

In fairness they were unlucky not to add to that tally, particularly after dominating the second period once Brett Pitman, surprisingly dropped to the bench, was introduced soon after the break.

The first half had been a battle in the rain with Pompey's huge shout for a handball against Shaun Whalley the major talking point.

However, it was the introduction of top scorer Pitman on 55 minutes that woke Pompey up. The forward was immediately involved as Gareth Evans' cross-shot eventually came to nothing and then he forced a smart stop from Shrewsbury's stand-in keeper Craig MacGillivray.

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Matt Clarke's effort was blocked and MacGillivray then saved well from Kal Naismith before Pitman's header hit the bar late on. There was still time for Pitman to miss a golden opportunity as he shot wide at the far post to leave Jackett frustrated with the result.

Pitman has been without a goal from open play since November yet he still has 13 in the league this season - more than twice as many as anyone else in the Portsmouth squad - and the decision to play Naismith off target-man Oliver Hawkins backfired on this occasion.

Naismith only came into the game once he was switched to the left in a change that saw Pitman on for the ineffective Jamal Lowe. There was at least a more consistent thrust down the right from the dangerous Evans.

Pitman and Hawkins, who came closest to opening Pompey's account in the first half, lack pace but you could say that about the team in general which could be something for Jackett to ponder prior to the January transfer window closing on Wednesday.

Of bigger concern will be central midfield where injuries have hit hard and Adam May's late red card means he will be suspended against former club Doncaster next week.

May and Ben Close never really got to grips with the game against Shrewsbury's midfield three. It's clear they are missing injured pair Danny Rose and Stuart O'Keefe.

Sky Bet League One standings

Brighter spots for Pompey came defensively. Clarke looks a class act and so too does Christian Burgess with both players comfortable with the ball at their feet as well as offering a physical presence.

Burgess was blamed by Jackett for Shrewsbury's winner but in open play he and Clarke barely put a foot wrong.

Ten of Pompey's 15 home games this season have finished with under 2.5 goals and it's easy to see why. They have a strong defensive spine but lack the speed and guile to regularly carve open opposition teams who head to Fratton Park to frustrate.

Portsmouth need a bit of magic. It's over to you, Mr Disney.

The opposition

This was a massive result for Shrewsbury, one which propelled them back up to second spot as the pre-season relegation favourites maintained their unlikely push for promotion with a 12th league clean sheet of the season.

To achieve the shutout without suspended keeper Dean Henderson was commendable and coach Paul Hurst deserves enormous credit for making Salop arguably the most organised side in the Football League.

There is such little space given up centrally in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Aggressive centre-back Toto Nsiala continues to impress and the midfield three of Ben Godfrey, Jon Nolan and Abu Ogogo are hugely important.

Godfrey protects, Ogogo gets around the pitch with great energy and Nolan is the man to spread the play. The whole team knows the plan and they stop counter-attacks with shrewd game-management tactics but the reliance on set-pieces for goals could still be a problem over the remaining 16 matches.

It would be a surprise if Salop were able to last the automatic-promotion pace but they have surprised all season as their fans acknowledged with chants of "We are staying up". Staying up? For sure. Going up? I'd still say no.

Portsmouth 4-2-3-1: McGhee; Thompson, Burgess, Clarke, Donohue; May, Close; Evans, Naismith (Ronan 70), Lowe (Pitman 55); Hawkins.

Shrewsbury 4-1-4-1: MacGillivray; Bolton, Nsiala, Sadler, Beckles; Godfrey; Whalley (John-Lewis 90), Ogogo, Nolan, Rodman; Morris (Payne 83).

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Ten of Pompey's 15 home games this season have finished with under 2.5 goals and it's easy to see why
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