Play-off clash in Balance as Pompey suffer narrow first-leg defeat

Sunderland 1-0 Portsmouth

PORTSMOUTH headed back to the south coast a goal down as ten-man Sunderland edged the first leg play-off – the only goal of the game a clinical volley on the hour mark from substitute Chris Maguire.

After a poor first half the game burst into life following the break, Sunderland taking the lead as Maguire took advantage of a poor clearance from Matt Clarke. The home side were then reduced to ten men after Alim Ozturk brought down Gareth Evans on the edge of the area, referee Andy Woolmer adjudging the midfielder was heading towards goal.

The resulting free kick from Evans was Pompey’s best chance of the game but his effort rebounded off the bar with Sunderland keeper Jon McLaughlin beaten.

Pompey worked hard for an equaliser but they struggled to create any real openings against the ten men, and will need to perform far better in the return leg at Fratton Park on Thursday.

The game itself started poorly and it clearly hadn’t stirred the Wearside public’s imagination with a crowd of 26,610 Sunderland’s lowest league attendance of the season.

There was a double blow for Pompey ahead of kick-off with Lee Brown ruled out with an Achilles injury and Brett Pitman missing with a hamstring problem.

Anton Walkes was drafted into the defence so with two right-backs in the starting XI a pre-match game of guess the formation started on social media.

Walkes took the left-sided role which may or may not have calmed the nerves of the fans who made the long trip to Wearside, and those back home on the south coast. There was, however, a boost for Portsmouth with the news that Aiden McGeady, tormentor-in-chief in the Checkatrade Trophy Final at Wembley, was injured in the pre-match warm-up and had to be replaced by Lynden Gooch.

The change was clearly a blow to the home side and without their talisman Sunderland were on the back foot early on – Pompey dominating possession in the opening quarter hour and eager to get at their opponents. But despite keeping McLaughlin on his toes in the home goal, Jackett’s side struggled to create any clear-cut chances.

Jamal Lowe had clearly been identified as the Portsmouth dangerman and Gooch made sure he felt the effects of a hefty early challenge.

But just as Pompey were looking comfortable they almost went one down midway through the first half – Christian Burgess allowing Charlie Wyke to escape his attentions in the box but the striker headed over.  

And it was Wyke again causing problems just after the half hour but Walkes showed all his defensive qualities to prevent the striker getting on the end of a Lewis Morgan cross.

It wasn’t until the 44th minute when the game produced its first shot on target – Craig MacGillivray comfortably saving Gooch’s effort.

The performance level of the home side must not have impressed Sunderland boss Jack Ross and the Wearsiders started the second half as though they had felt the full force of their manager’s ire at the break.

After a few close shaves MacGillivray pulled off his usual world-class Stadium of Light save on the hour mark, this time seemingly using his head to divert George Honeyman’s goal-bound header.

If Pompey thought their luck was in, they were wrong, and they went behind soon after as Clarke’s headed clearance fell to substitute Maguire who fired a volley past MacGillivray from the edge of the area.

Pompey were struggling to find a way back into the game but they were helped when Ozturk dived in on Evans on the edge of the area and earned a red card – the referee ruling he had prevented a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Evans cracked the resulting free kick off the crossbar and Sunderland’s priority from then on was to cling on to their one-goal advantage.

Maguire did have the chance to grab his and Sunderland’s second, but after breaking clear he cracked his effort off the post.

Pompey huffed and puffed but struggled to test McLaughlin, and they will have to step up their performance at Fratton Park on Thursday night to make it through to Wembley.

Sunderland (4-2-3-1): McLaughlin; O’Nien, Flanagan, Ozturk, Oviedo; Cattermole, Power; Morgan (Maguire 58mins), Honeyman, Gooch (Dunne 70); Wyke. Subs (not used): Ruiter (gk), Matthews, Leadbitter, Hume, Grigg

Portsmouth (4-2-3-1): MacGillivray; Thompson, Burgess, Clarke, Walkes; Naylor, Close; Lowe, Evans, Curtis (Solomon-Otabor 69mins); Hawkins (Bogle 69). Subs (not used): Bass (gk), Dennis, May, Morris, Cannon.

Referee: Andy Woolmer

Attendance: 26,610