Final Score: Hartlepool United 0 Portsmouth 0
ON PANCAKE Tuesday, Hartlepool United missed the chance to flip over Portsmouth and move off the bottom of the table.
Victory over the second-bottom team would finally have taken Pools above another team.
Instead, for the game billed as an FA Cup final by their manager John Hughes, they couldn’t find a breakthrough.
A little over two weeks ago and Pools won at Fratton Park. They’ve not lost since, but are 11 points shy of safety after the draw.
They dominated possession and penned the troubled visitors back for the most of the game.
Breaking through a well-drilled backline, however, proved difficult.
Pools’ boss John Hughes, whose side are now four games unbeaten, said: “It’s frustrating. Expectations were on and winning would have put us off the bottom.
“We were missing that wee bit of magic to open up the defence, that killer pass.
“On the other side, it’s unbeaten in four and a clean sheet. But I’m disappointed as this was there for us to move off the bottom – a good chance at home.
“We tried to stretch it, changed formation, used substitutes, and it didn’t happen. We had half-chances, but couldn’t get through.’’
Hughes added: “Portsmouth are no mugs, have a lot of experience. All credit to them in terms of the situation they are in. But it was up to us to produce something to unlock the door and make them open up.’’
Pompey went into the game without a win in 19 games and on the back of a nine-game losing streak.
The run was halted, however, last night with a dogged defensive display. It was only their fourth point from a possible 60.
They did, however, have the game’s first opening. Adam Reed, born in Hartlepool and on loan from Sunderland, fired a low shot across goal from an angle.
Playing on the right wing, Reed appeared to be using the game as an audition for a contract at Victoria Park next season if, as expected, he is released from Sunderland this summer.
He also had Pompey’s only second-half chance, when, on a late counter attack, he broke away, cut inside and saw his shot blocked by Peter Hartley.
In between those chances, any openings were created by Pools, with James Poole particularly full of confidence and positive running in the opening half.
Ritchie Humphreys headed wide from an Evan Horwood corner in the first-half, although it wasn’t until just before the interval that they tested goalkeeper Simon Eastwood.
Neil Austin dug out the chance by winning possession back and feeding James Poole. He played in Charlie Wyke on the right side and his low how was saved.
If Poole was Pools’ best player in the first 45 minutes, it was his team-mate and flat-mate Jack Baldwin who took that tag in the second period.
Again playing as part of a three-man midfield, he took it on himself to drive his team forward.
Crunching into tackles and picking up plenty of second balls, he also had two good openings, the first created by himself.
A quick touch and fast feet took him through two defenders and his low shot went past Eastwood, but rolled across the far post.
Next up, a low snapshot from 20 yards rolled wide of the post as Eastwood scrambled across his goal.
They pressed continuously and Poole had a goalbound shot blocked, before he popped the second shot over.
Pools changed shape to try and get more support for the industrious Wyke, and introduced substitutes but there was no break.
Deep into injury time Pools were denied a penalty. Austin’s cross bounced up onto the hand of Sam Sodje. The centre-half had cleared most things all night with his head and body. He also got away with it when he used a hand.
“I’m 100 per cent convinced it hit his hand,’’ said boss Hughes. “I feel if it went to a referee’s meeting they would not say they would give a penalty for it as his hands were by his side – I wanted one, but I would be disappointed if it was against me.
“It came over a defender’s head, hit his hand, but if you are hanging your hat on that you are clutching at straws – we should have been more creative in unlocking the door.
“One thing evident for me, when we got desperate, we were too predictable. Pass it, switch the ball and move it quick, as we did in the first half hour.’’
Bookings: Wallace (22, foul), Ertl (29, foul), Sodje (40, foul)
Referee: Darren Bond (Burscough) 5
HARTLEPOOL UNITED (4-3-2-1): Flinders 6; Austin 7, Collins 6, Hartley 6, Horwood 6; Walton 6, BALDWIN 8, Humphreys 5 (Monkhouse 64, 5); Franks 7 (James 76), Poole 7, Wyke 6. Subs (not used): McHugh (gk), Luscombe, Rutherford, Richards, Holden.
PORTSMOUTH (4-4-1-1): Eastwood 6; Cooper 6, SODJE 8, Rocha 8, Butler 7; Reed 7, Ertl 7, Racon 5, Keene 5; Wallace 6; Agyemang 7 (Akinde 73). Subs (not used): Smith, Walker, Harris, Webster, Gyepes.
MAN OF THE MATCH
JACK Baldwin – threw himself into tackles, passed the ball with authority and had two good chances to score