Hatters hold Pompey at Fratton Park
The Town kept their first clean sheet in seven matches as they stubbornly held Portsmouth to a goalless draw at Fratton Park.
Caretaker manager Andy Awford made fives changes to the side that lost 2-0 at home to Wycombe on Boxing Day. Stephen O'Donnell came in for his first appearance since 26th September, while Ryan Hall started his first League 2 game since August. Jonathan Smith came back into the side in central midfield and there were also starts for Josh McQuoid and Jack Marriott as the Hatters lined-up 4-4-2.
And it was two of the new additions to the side that almost led to an early goal for the Hatters when, on three minutes, O’Donnell’s right-wing cross was volleyed wide by Hall from eight yards.
However, in truth, that was pretty much the best the Town could offer in an opening 45 minutes that was dominated by the hosts.
On five minutes Portsmouth striker Marc McNulty blasted a shot over the bar but as the half wore on the more Pompey upped the ante.
Caolan Lavery then saw a shot deflected behind on 18 minutes before Paul Benson diverted a header into the side-netting on the 20-minute mark at the other end for the Hatters.
Pompey came close three minutes later when Danny Hollands fed McNulty in the box but the home forward’s low shot was well-saved by Mark Tyler, diving away to his right.
Back came the Town, Marriott weaved down the left and into the box but could only see his square pass across the face of goal searching out McQuoid cleared from inside the six-yard box.
Enda Stevens was the man who made that vital clearance and 30 seconds later his cross up the other end put a chance on a plate for McNulty who was unable to slide home with the goal at his mercy.
The hosts continued to put the Town under pressure as half-time approached and Tyler was called into action again on 37 minutes with two key saves to deny Kyle Bennett’s low shot from the edge of the area before getting a vital glove on a Pompey follow-up.
Five minutes before the break Portsmouth – and their PA announcer – thought they had the lead when Davies’ 25-yard free-kick flew goalwards. The ball rustled the netting enough to give the impression the ball had beaten Tyler. The goal was celebrated and announced – but the ball had actually hit the side-netting.
The Town breathed a sigh of relief, and Hall then had a free-kick of his own at the other end for the Hatters which zoomed way over the bar but was celebrated tongue-in-cheek by the travelling Town fans.
Two minutes after the interval the Hatters created their first worthy opportunity: Benson’s flick-on sent Marriott away but his stabbed shot was blocked by Pompey keeper Brian Murphy who then pounced on the loose ball to deny Hall.
Back came Pompey. Jake Howells blocked Bennett’s shot from the edge of the box and from the resultant corner captain Michael Doyle flashed a header over the bar at the near post.
While the Town were still holding a threat on the break, Portsmouth continued to dominate. Scott Cuthbert did well to stick out a tackle in the penalty box to deny Lavery before Tyler then clung onto Matt Clarke’s bullet header from another Davies corner.
Awford sent on Cameron McGeehan and Craig Mackail-Smith for McQuoid and Marriott respectively and the Hatters almost threatened the Pompey goal on 67 minutes when Magnus Okuonghae nodded Hall’s free-kick wide.
On 71 minutes Mackail-Smith forced Murphy into a save when driving an effort from the edge of the box but two minutes later the Hatters had a superb double save from Tyler to thank to deny Pompey. Firstly the Town stopper thwarted Gareth Evans’ close-range shot before the 38-year-old did even better to block McNulty’s follow-up from five yards.
Pompey threatened with five minutes left on the clock when Doyle headed over before the Town then wasted a good opportunity from a free-kick won by Mackail-Smith when Hall failed to find a team-mate with a pass.
As five added minutes were added, the home side pressed for a late winner. Tyler needed to be alert to tip over a cross-cum-shot from substitute Gary Roberts before Clarke then headed wide from 10 yards in the fourth added minute – but that was the last chance and the Town could take heart from a well-earned point and first clean in seven matches.
Town line-up 4-4-2: Tyler; O'Donnell, Howells, Cuthbert, Okuonghae; Smith, Lawless (sub Long 77), Hall, McQuoid (sub McGeehan 62); Benson, Marriott (sub Mackail-Smith 68).
Town subs not used: Justham, McCourt, Guttridge, Wilkinson.
Attendance: 17,668, including 1,556 shouting the Town.