McGeehan suffers broken leg as Hatters go down at Fratton Park
LUTON TOWN 0
Att: 17, 402 (1,547 Hatters)
The Hatters suffered their first away defeat in ten matches in all competitions at Portsmouth this afternoon, as 2017 got off to the worst possible start with 11-goal midfielder Cameron McGeehan suffering a broken leg at Fratton Park.
Christian Burgess’ 31st-minute header proved enough for fourth-placed Pompey to open up a four-point gap over the Hatters in the League Two play-off positions, with Wycombe edging the Town down to sixth after their 2-1 win over Newport County.
Manager Nathan Jones made two changes from the starting line-up from Saturday's win over Barnet, and neither were great surprises, with James Justin and Alex Gilliead in from the start as replacements for the two players they came on for at Kenilworth Road 48 hours earlier, the injured Dan Potts and Alan Sheehan.
The Hatters started brightly, with Danny Hylton and Justin combining well down the left but the teenager’s cross was claimed by home keeper David Forde.
In the 13th minute, however, the Hatters suffered a severe blow when McGeehan stayed down after challenging for ball in the Portsmouth half.
After a seven-minute hold-up, in which the midfielder was shown a yellow card by referee Tim Robinson – presumably for dissent – McGeehan was carried off on a stretcher with a section of the home fans’ crass chants of ‘You’re going home in an ambulance’ and cheers providing a sad backdrop to his exit.
Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu came on in McGeehan’s place at the tip of the midfield diamond, which Jones had reverted to when Potts went off injured in the first-half of the win over Barnet.
With 25 minutes gone, Pompey had the first real attempt on goal but right-back Gareth Evans’ shot flew comfortably over Walton’s goal and into the 1,562 travelling Town fans.
Two minutes later, Jonathan Smith did likewise for the Town, before Kyle Bennett went up the other end and fizzed one just wide.
Then came the hosts’ breakthrough, when Burgess rose highest to meet Carl Baker’s free-kick from wide on the left and his header found the back of the Town net.
It was the first goal the Hatters had conceded in a league game on the road since Ollie Palmer scored a consolation for Leyton Orient in the 2-1 win at Brisbane Road on October 15th, and the clean sheet run would end at a club record-equalling four consecutive away shut-outs in Football League matches.
As the Hatters regrouped, Mpanzu looked to get in wide on a couple of occasions, and an inswinging cross from Cook lured Forde from his line, but a disappointing half on all fronts ended with Portsmouth in the ascendancy.
The fourth official signalled a minimum seven minutes of time to be added on, and Cuthbert had to produce a perfectly-timed sliding challenge to deny the marauding Evans a couple of minutes into that period, before Burgess headed wide from another Baker set-piece.
The second half started with Pompey on the front foot once more, Michael Smith heading straight at Walton, then Justin having to react quickly to deny Baker at the far post after an initial slip looked to let the Portsmouth wideman in.
Against the run of play, however, the Town were a lick of paint away from equalising, Hylton capitalising when Burgess failed to deal with Cook’s hook forward, but the striker’s impudent chip over the stranded Forde came back off the crossbar.
Jones made an immediate double change, with Olly Lee and Isaac Vassell coming on for Gilliead and Cook, and the Hylton chance seemed to lift the Town players, Smith trying his luck on the volley from 20 yards as Pompey struggled to clear Stephen O’Donnell’s long throw.
Hylton was terrorising the home defence, and after O’Donnell nodded Cuthbert’s raking pass into his path, the top scorer wriggled his way past Matt Clarke on the right byline and cut the ball back for Smith, but the midfielder’s stab at goal was off target.
The Town were on top, and Vassell was putting himself around up front, although the ex-Truro man went into Robinson’s book for dissent as Hylton lay on the ground after a heavy challenge from Clarke, and Justin was felled out wide by Evans, without a free-kick being given.
Forde was called into action in the 73rd minute when Lee sprayed a fine pass out to Justin on the left, and the full-back cut inside to fire a right-footed shot at goal, but the Irish keeper flew across his line to push it away.
Pompey had the best chance to seal the win two minutes into injury-time, however, when Robinson penalised Lee for a trip on Noel Hunt in the box, but the ex-Reading striker’s fellow sub, Gary Roberts, blazed his penalty high over the bar into the Fratton End.
The Hatters’ run of impressive away form had come to an end, but not without a Fratton fight. All thoughts, however, were at the local hospital with Cameron McGeehan. Everyone at Kenilworth Road will be wishing him a speedy recovery.
TOWN: Walton, O'Donnell, Cuthbert, Mullins, Justin, Rea, Smith, McGeehan (Mpanzu 20), Gilliead (Lee 54), Cook (Vassell 54), Hylton. Subs not used: Marriott, Senior, McQuoid, King (GK)
Yellows: McGeehan, Smith, Vassell, Mpanzu
POMPEY: Forde, Stevens, Rose (Linganzi 84), Clarke, Burgess, Baker (Hunt 80), Doyle (c), Smith, Naismith, Bennett (Roberts 68), Evans. Subs not used: O'Brien (GK), Lalkovic, Whatmough, Chaplin.
Yellows: Forde, Stevens