Pompey prove too strong for Alex as our resolve is broken in second half at Fratton Park.
Portsmouth inflicted Crewe Alexandra’s first defeat of the new season with a deserved 2-0 win at Fratton Park. The Railwaymen worked hard to remain in the contest for as long as possible but in the end, Danny Cowley’s side proved too strong to keep at bay. It took three minutes into the second half for our goal to be breached with John Marquis firing home via the far post and winger Marcus Harness doubled Pompey’s lead with a powerful drive from a similar position to the first goal on 64 minutes.
Crewe worked tirelessly to try and contain one of the pre-season favourites for promotion and Mika Mandron, and Shaun MacDonald had presentable chances to perhaps have made it a bit more of an uncomfortable afternoon for the home side.
Crewe Alexandra boss David Artell made two changes from the side that started the League One campaign against Cheltenham Town last weekend.
Finnish goalkeeper, Will Jaaskelainen, who started in the mid-week victory over Hartlepool United in the EFL Cup, was chosen ahead of David Richards and Shaun MacDonald came in for Oli Finney in midfield.
Artell switched formation, operating with a 4-4-2 with Owen Dale partnering Mika Mandron. Luke Murphy was named captain.
The noise was incessant as Pompey welcomed fans back to Fratton Park but the away support of 306 behind Jaaskelainen’s goal in the first half could certainly be heard too. It made for a fantastic atmosphere that we have missed over the past 17 months.
Before kick-off there was a one-minute of applause for all those that the club had lost during the period of non-attendance at matches.
Crewe started brightly in possession, but had to defend an early corner. Thankfully, Ronan Curtis couldn’t keep his header down enough to test Jaaskelainen after Shaun Williams had found him from his left hand side cross. Moments later, Curtis shot a yard wide after Reeco-Hackett Fairchild had drifted off the wing to find him inside.
A really good move from the Alex after 13 minutes saw Lundstram and Ainley keep the ball well in the middle of the pitch before they linked up with Mandron. His instant shift out to the overlapping Kayne Ramsay was just not accurate enough for the right-back to take a decisive touch and enter the Portsmouth penalty area. It was unfortunate that the on-loan Southampton defender just couldn’t initially take it in his stride and there was nothing coming after he went down close to the by-line.
Crewe were soon on the back foot again though and we were guilty of being caught in possession a few times in midfield but the likes of John Marquis and Fairchild had their shots, usually from outside the box, blocked. Macdonald also cut out a low cross from Ryan Tunnicliffe that was destined for Marcus Harness.
On 22 minutes, Will Jaaskelainen produced a stunning save to prevent Harness from giving the home side the lead. Harness must have thought he had scored after connecting from no more than 8 yards out but the young Finn spread himself to make a superb save and Tunnicliffe’s follow up header cleared the crossbar.
A couple of minutes later, Ramsay made a last ditch block on Marquis as he adjusted himself to get another shot off. Daniels also positioned himself perfectly to repel two dangerous looking crosses going across our box.
The Alex needed a period of good possession, preferably in the Portsmouth half of the pitch. Murphy and MacDonald tried to retain the ball in the middle of the park but it was difficult with the home side’s desire to press us in packs. Mandron and Dale were trying to get into the game on scraps and were struggling for trusted touches.
A better spell on the ball saw Lundstram glide away from a couple of players but Crewe’s front two just couldn’t link up well enough to make progress into the final third. It was one of Dale’s last contributions as he was forced off with five minutes remaining after needing brief treatment from physio Steve Phillips. Christopher Long replaced him.
Crewe couldn’t afford to be sloppy in possession and gift the ball back to the home side and as the first half whistle loomed, it was a question of trying to get in at the break on level terms.
The alert Jaaskelainen had to push away another effort from Curtis, and Offord halted Marquis again as we continued to defend our goal with steely determination.
It could have been even better with a late corner from the left from Adebisi, but Mandron couldn’t keep him header down enough after Murphy had cleverly lifted the ball back across. It was our best chance of the first period.
Portsmouth were quickly out of the blocks and duly opened the scoring on 48 minutes. Tunnicliffe was granted too much time in midfield and his perfectly weighted pass found Marquis in behind and his shot across goal struck the far post before nestling in the back of the net past a helpless Jaaskelainen. After defending so well to go in goalless at the interval, we now found ourselves chasing an equaliser.
Almost immediately, a good attack from the Alex ended when Mandron’s low cross was too far ahead of the on-rushing Long. Then more aggressive play from Mandron inside the Portsmouth box allowed him to feed Lundstram but the young midfielder couldn’t pick a black shirt out.
More pressure from a resurgent Alex then saw MacDonald denied a clean strike at goal from close range after good work from Murphy close to the by-line and Ainley’s follow-up shot was straight at Gavin Banunu.
With just the one goal in it, Crewe remained very much in the contest but had to cut out those crosses coming down our flanks. Ramsay made a superb sliding challenge to deny Curtis as he threatened to cut the ball out of his feet and aim to curl one into the far corner.
From the resultant corner, Marquis did have the ball in the net, after he poached one home from close range after Hackett-Fairchild had won the first header. Marquis’ potential second ‘goal’ was rightly chalked off for offside. The Pompey striker was caught offside a number of times on the day.
With David Artell aiming to make a change, Portsmouth doubled their lead on 64 minutes and it was almost a carbon-copy move to the first one. Tunnicliffe slipped in Harness in behind and without breaking stride his powerful shot seemed to go through Jaaskelainen for 2-0. It was a hammer blow to the Alex, who had gained some momentum and hope in the last 15 minutes.
The change came with MacDonald making way for Finney. Long was booked for a foul on Curtis before Joe Morrell replaced the impressive Williams for the home side. That was soon followed by Michael Jacobs replacing Hackett-Fairchild.
Crewe desperately needed a break to perhaps cause some anxiety inside Fratton Park but in truth, the home side looked more likely to add to their tally. Their work ethic didn’t subside as they searched for a third goal to really kick start their season.
Marquis made way with 10 minutes left on the clock for George Hirst and Crewe’s chance to perhaps find that goal that could change the complexion of the final few minutes, saw Long break with real purpose down the right wing but his low cross just evaded Finney and Mandron.
Porter replaced Mandron as the minutes ticked away for the Alex and Ronan whistled one just over the crossbar as he looked to get on the scoresheet himself. Ramsay did well again to make a decisive block on a shot from full-back Lee Brown following a quick free-kick and Harness headed straight at Jaaskelainen.
A noisy crowd of 11,470 were there to see it.