Portsmouth 0-0 Sunderland (Sunderland win 1-0 on aggregate)
PORTSMOUTH’s season ended in frustration at Fratton Park on Thursday night with a goalless draw against Sunderland that saw them dumped out of the play-offs.
Pompey needed to score to have any chance of reaching the Wembley final but the Wearsiders’ goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin pulled off a number of crucial saves.
Kenny Jackett’s side struggled to create many clear chances in a game they knew that had to win, and the best opportunity fell to Gareth Evans in the first half only for the midfielder’s header to be saved by McLaughlin at point blank range.
When Pompey needed a big second half performance, they were unable to rouse themselves, with the visitors’ goal failing to come under any sustained pressure.
The result means it will likely be a close-season of departures from Fratton Park as some of the stars of the campaign seek chances at a higher level.
The game produced several unsavoury moments on the pitch and one particular one in the crowd when Luke O’Nien’s momentum took him into the Portsmouth fans who made it known to the Sunderland defender, and his teammates, that neither he nor they were welcome.
The build up to the game produced good news for Jackett with Lee Brown and Brett Pitman both declared fit and coming in for Anton Walkes and Ronan Curtis. More surprisingly Viv Solomon-Otabor was drafted in, top scorer Jamal Lowe dropping to the bench.
The visitors’ decision to bring Grant Leadbitter into their starting XI indicated that the 1-0 first-leg advantage had Sunderland manager Jack Ross opting for a more defensive approach.
A resentment between players and fans at both clubs had grown over the four previous clashes this season, fomented by social media and culminating in tweets that led to the arrest of a 22-year-old in North Yorkshire and Hampshire Police upping security ahead of kick-off.
Pompey were none too impressed by what they saw as the over the top celebrations on Saturday night by the Sunderland players for what was effectively a 1-0 half-time lead.
There was clearly an edge to the game and the first caution arrived in just the fourth minute, Evans booked for a foul on Sunderland’s destroyer-in-chief, Lee Cattermole.
Tom Naylor was next in the book a few minutes later, the midfielder perhaps lucky to stay on the pitch after throwing the ball at Chris Maguire following a clash near the corner flag.
Most of the action early on was between the two sets of players rather than of an actual footballing variety and the intensity of the game appeared to be affecting the Portsmouth players more than their Sunderland counterparts. It wasn’t until midway through the first half that Pompey created a chance of note – Nathan Thompson breaking into the box only to see his effort blocked before Tom Naylor and Solomon-Otabor also had shots hit defenders.
What Portsmouth needed was some composure in the final third and Pitman’s first real involvement in the game brought a smattering of exactly that – exchanging passes with Ben Close before his cross just evaded the head of Oli Hawkins.
It was five minutes before the interval that Pompey showed some real quality as the returning Brown delivered a cross that Hawkins laid off towards the head of Evans six yards out. With the Fratton End expecting the net to ripple McLaughlin in the visitors’ goal somehow turned the ball over.
The resulting corner was then met by Matt Clarke whose downward header bounced up off the crossbar.
There appeared the need for some guile in Pompey’s play and it took Jackett just six minutes of the second half before Lowe was introduced at the expense of Solomon-Otabor.
Within a minute of the change Brown and Evans linked well down the left and when Brown floated in a cross Hawkins couldn’t get any real power on his header which was easily tipped over by McLaughlin.
Vaughan replaced Hawkins midway through the second half and it was McLaughlin again who was the Wearsiders’ saviour, this time denying the substitute’s effort on goal.
When a late assault was required on the Sunderland goal it never arrived and Pompey ultimately went out of the play-offs with a bit of a whimper.
Portsmouth (4-2-3-1): MacGillivray; Thompson, Burgess, Clarke, Brown; Naylor, Close; Solomon-Otabor (Lowe 52mins), Evans, Pitman; Hawkins (Vaughan 68). Subs (not used): Bass (gk), Walkes, Morris, Dennis, Curtis.
Sunderland (4-2-3-1): McLaughlin; O’Nien, Flanagan, Ozturk, Oviedo; Cattermole, Leadbitter; Power (Morgan 80mins), Maguire (Gooch 69), Honeyman; Wyke (Grigg 83). Subs (not used): Ruiter (gk), Dunne, Matthews, Watmore.
Referee: Peter Bankes