First half goals from David Connelly and Patrick Agyemang gave struggling Portsmouth their first win in 24 games and condemned Crewe Alexandra to their second defeat in a week. Pompey worked exceedingly hard for their victory, especially in the second half when Crewe dominated the possession and got themselves back into the game through Mathias Pogba with just over half an hour left.
Crewe huffed and puffed but really didn’t test the Portsmouth goalkeeper Simon Eastwood nearly enough. In fact, it was the spirited visitors who went closest again to scoring in the closing stages when substitute Adam Reed struck a post.
Following the 3-0 defeat at Hartlepool on Tuesday evening, Steve Davis made three changes to his starting line-up. One was forced upon him with midfielder Bradden Inman ruled out due to an ankle injury. Mathias Pogba was recalled to the starting line-up.
The other two changes were in the back four with Harry Davis and Matt Tootle recalled to the starting line-up with Adam Dugdale and Kelvin Mellor on the substitutes’ bench.
Crewe had made a lively start to the proceedings at Gresty Road but found themselves behind inside the first five minutes. The Portsmouth captain Jonny Ertl played the ball into the Crewe penalty area and after rolling the tough-tight Mark Ellis, the vastly experienced Patrick Agyemang placed his shot beyond Steve Phillips. It was far too easy and an early goal was always going to instil some loss confidence into a struggling Pompey side.
After the bright start, Crewe became a little sloppy with their passing and decision making. The Alex players were just lacking that quality final pass or cross and Portsmouth were making things difficult with their work ethic and the fact they would drop off in numbers whenever Crewe had possession.
A lively Byron Moore was unlucky not to clip in Gregor Robertson beyond the Portsmouth back line and moments later, Chuks Aneke’s pass was just a little heavy to find the runs of AJ Leitch-Smith.
It nearly got doubly worse for Crewe though when Agyemang and David Connelly combined again inside the penalty area and Mark Ellis had to react quickly to clear from Agyemang at the near post.
Crewe were finding it hard to get Aneke and Leitch-Smith into the contest but Portsmouth were working tirelessly to restrict our space and passing options going forward.
Portsmouth doubled their lead just before the half an hour mark after a forceful run from their captain Jonny Ertl. He exploited some space through the middle of the pitch to feed Agyemang and the striker’s turn of pace allowed him to steal a yard on Davis and cross to the far post where his partner Connelly coolly volleyed past Phillips. Connelly, a former Republic of Ireland International had been left unmarked and he wasn’t going to miss from six yards.
The Railwaymen were facing an uphill struggle and although we were having a lot of the ball, it was that final ball into the box that was lacking. A cross-come-shot from Moore nearly drifted over the head of Eastwood but the Portsmouth goalkeeper adjusted his feet to collect it under pressure.
It could have been game over for the Railwaymen before the interval with Gabor Gyepes heading over the crossbar from a corner and Connelly firing into the side netting from a tight angle. Jed Wallace was also presented with a great chance in stoppage time when the influential Ertl reached the by-line yet again but the Pompey man couldn’t keep his shot down.
Max Clayton replaced Aneke at the break and an injured Connelly made way for James Keene for Guy Whittingham's side. A promising early move was halted with Leitch-Smith offside. With the runs of Clayton to look for, Crewe certainly dominated the possession and a Moore cross was just too long for Pogba at the far post.
Pogba also had a shot blocked from distance by Ricardo Rocha after he had been slipped in by Tootle.
Portsmouth were a threat on the counter attack though and after Ertl had pinched possession from the boot of Osman, it was up to Phillips to push his fierce shot away.
Just after the hour mark, Crewe’s domination of the possession paid off. Clayton did well in the initial build up to keep the ball alive to allow Pogba to fire across the box and Moore must have thought he had scored when he connected with it at the far post. Eastwood produced a superb save to keep it out but Moore collected the rebound and shot across goal again and there was Pogba at the far to send it into the roof of the net for his 13th goal of the season.
Moments later, a dangerous cross from Leitch-Smith just missed out the runs of Pogba and Clayton. Davis made a change with Tootle making way for Mellor, before Murphy was booked for catching Liam Walker in a tackle.
Mellor was soon involved in the play and his early low cross was cut out by Rocha before Pogba could apply a definite touch.
Rocha lost his head temporary and was booked for pushing young Clayton before Walker limped off to he replaced by Adam Reed.
Crewe continued to press forward looking for the equaliser with Clayton flicking a Robertson cross into the gloves of Eastwood. His header just lacked the power to really trouble the Pompey goalkeeper.
More great attacking play from Mellor presented Leitch-Smith with another shot, but Eastwood was right behind it at this near post. Another low cross from Pogba was just about poked back to the Portsmouth goalkeeper before Clayton could get a positive touch on it.
With time running out, Pompey nearly stretched their lead when Reed hit the Crewe post after a clever short corner. He was unlucky after it curled around a lot of bodies. Keene shot hide and wide before John Akinde replaced Agyemang.
Crewe tried to muster that real chance that could have given us a point for our second half effort but Pogba’s acrobatic effort was wide. After Leitch-Smith was tripped on the edge of the box, Murphy clipped the top of the Portsmouth wall with his free-kick.
With time running out, Davis was booked for pushing at a corner and Robertson for cutting across Agyemang as he threatened to get away.
Mellor, who certainly made a difference, went awfully close to giving us a draw but his stoppage time shot was blocked on the goal line and sent over the Portsmouth bar. The block typified Portsmouth’s effort and desire to win their first game since October.