Shrewsbury Town 0-2 Portsmouth
PORTSMOUTH geared up for their Wembley date on March 31 with their third straight league win, climbing to third in the table and keeping the pressure on Barnsley in second spot.
The victory over Shrewsbury saw Kenny Jackett’s side leapfrog next Sunday’s Checkatrade Trophy Final opponents Sunderland – Ben Close grabbing the opener and Brett Pitman making sure of the points with a second ten minutes before the end.
Pompey had to withstand a tough opening 25 minutes from a determined Shrews side and were thankful to a great save from Craig MacGillivray and a great block from Lee Brown before Close’s goal.
Shrewsbury didn’t create much after the break and Pitman made the game safe after good link up play with substitute Oli Hawkins.
Jackett was well aware that the importance of the win had increased with Barnsley’s 92nd minute winner at Walsall in Saturday’s early kick-off – the gap to the top two seven points at 3pm but back to four on the final whistle at New Meadow.
Gareth Evans was the only change to the side that beat Scunthorpe last weekend, coming into the starting XI for Viv Solomon-Otabor, the loan signing missing out with a calf injury.
After an early scare when a Fejiri Okenabirhie cross just evaded Shaun Whalley, Jamal Lowe was the beneficiary of a very good crossfield pass from Tom Naylor, only for Shrews’ keeper Steve Arnold to beat him to the ball.
Shortly after it was Arnold’s opposite number, Craig MacGillivray, who was the Pompey saviour, pulling off an excellent save to deny Whalley’s header low to his right after a good ball in from Okenabirhie.
Shrewsbury were one of the 13 teams in the League One relegation fight – two points above the relegation zone before kick-off but two points behind 12th spot – and were fighting for every ball and showing their competitive edge.
After MacGillivray’s save in the 16th minute it was left-back Lee Brown’s turn to rescue Pompey midway through the first half, making a last-gasp challenge to prevent Oliver Norburn getting a shot in on goal.
After a difficult opening Portsmouth made a tactical change – Evans and Brett Pitman switching – and they started getting more time on the ball and created shooting opportunities for Evans and Close, both unsuccessful with efforts on the home goal.
But Close didn’t have to wait long before registering his sixth of the season after good work from Pitman and Brown, the midfielder firing home after Arnold could only parry Brown’s shot in the 40thminute.
Pompey appeared well in control at the start of the second half, but a one-goal advantage ensured it was still nervous for Jackett and his staff on the bench.
The manager replaced the largely innocuous Omar Bogle with Hawkins ten minutes after the restart, and the substitute was denied by the crossbar and the goalkeeper soon after coming on – both chances created by the impressive Brown.
His first effort looped off Omar Beckles and hit the bar before Arnold denied the striker with a great save to his left in the 71stminute.
MacGillivray looked assured for 77 minutes on his return to Shrewsbury but the Pompey keeper fumbled a Norburn free-kick – his only real test of the second half.
Any fears the 1000-plus Pompey faithful had of a Shrewsbury comeback were extinguished in the 79th minute, Hawkins turning the provider after a defensive mix-up for Pitman to score from close range.
Shrewsbury Town (3-5-2): Arnold (Mitchell 84mins); Waterfall, Williams, Beckles; Bolton (Campbell 72), Docherty, Grant (Laurent 77), Norburn, Golbourne; Whalley, Okenabirhie. Subs (not used): Edwards, Sadler, Amadi-Holloway, Payne.
Portsmouth (4-2-3-1): MacGillivray; Thompson, Burgess, Clarke, Brown; Naylor, Close; Evans (Walkes 89mins), Pitman, Lowe; Bogle (Hawkins 55). Subs (not used): Bass (gk), Haunstrup, May, Isgrove, Vaughan.
Referee: Ollie Yates