Sunderland 1 Pompey 0
Pompey’s play-off misfortune continued in the North East when they slipped to a single goal defeat against ten-man Sunderland.
Kenny Jackett had announced a fully fit squad in the week but when the team was announced it was missing two key men, Brett Pitman (hamstring) and Lee Brown (Achilles). In came Jamal Lowe, Ronan Curtis and Anton Walkes at left back. It was a surprise that Brandon Haunstrup did not fill the number three role to give the side a better balance.
The match was for the most part instantly forgettable save for five minutes in the middle of the second half. Brian Oviedo’s cross was partially cleared by the head of Matt Clarke and it fell perfectly for Chris McGuire to volley past Craig MacGillivray.
Pompey tried to hit back immediately and Clarke sent Gareth Evans bursting towards the penalty area and he was scythed down by Alim Ozturk. The referee had his red card out in a flash. Before the free-kick could be taken there were a flurry of substitutions with Curtis and Hawkins replaced by Viv Solomon-Otabor and Omar Bogle. Evans took the free kick and the ball was deflected onto the crossbar.
The ten-man hosts then were mostly interested in preserving their lead while toothless Pompey could create little.
Pompey have now played three away play-off semi-final legs and they have all been lost 1-0 and all goals were scored in second halves – Plymouth second half of extra time. Both of the previous home games finished 2-2 too, which must not be repeated on Thursday when I expect Pompey to throw the kitchen sink at Sunderland in front of a capacity crowd at Fratton Park.
Pompey need to find their goalscoring boots with their four-man attacking group having dried up of late. Neither Hawkins, Evans or Curtis have scored in the last month!
Pompey (4-2-3-1): MacGillivray; Thompson, Burgess, Clarke, Walkes; Naylor, Close; Lowe, Evans (c), Curtis (Bogle 69); Hawkins (Solomon-Otabor 69)
Subs not used: Bass, May, Cannon, Morris, Dennis
Referee: Andy Woolmer
Attendance: 26,610 (1,288 Pompey fans)
Afterwards the Blues boss told the official site: “We’re 1-0 down at half-time, with the second leg to come at Fratton Park – I certainly don’t think that’s a disaster. It’s still evenly balanced and we have to make our home advantage count on Thursday evening. We are capable of that. I felt we were the stronger side in the first half and just couldn’t get the shots off or threaten in the wide areas.
“Our delivery into the box wasn’t right and we came out of good areas and then went back into midfield. We looked pretty solid for the away side, although Sunderland did have a 15-minute period when they were on top. Maguire scored a terrific goal, which left our goalkeeper with no chance and then we again couldn’t find those shots when it was 11 against 10.
“Our two best efforts were both from Gareth Evans and he hit the bar with one of them from a free-kick.”
On the sending off Jackett said: “I’ve seen the incident again and I don’t really think the referee had any choice but to send him off. Gareth was going through and would have got to the ball before the goalkeeper. It would have been a tough angle, although there was an opportunity for him.”
He also added that he hopes both Brown and Pitman will be fit for the second leg.
RIP Jon Gittens
The death of Jon Gittens was announced yesterday at the age of just 55.
Jon was a central defender signed from Middlesbrough who scored on his league debut against Stoke City in September 1993. Jon went on the play ninety-nine game in two and a half seasons and moved down the coast to Torquay. His rough style of play always endeared him to home fans.
Jon’s career blossomed with Swindon Town where he formed a solid partnership with Colin Calderwood. His spell at the County Ground was sandwiched between two brief stays at Southampton.
And finally… Cruz missile
Even though this rocket against Cruzeiro in the Copa Libertadores rattled the crossbar, the power behind it was enough to see it bounce off the goalie and into the net for one very unlucky own goal. To add salt to Fabio’s wounds, Cruzeiro went on to lose to Emelec 2-1.