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The dream is over: Pompey fall short on an agonising play-off night
Friday, 17th May 2019 11:03 by staff

It's a third season in League One for Pompey, and not a jump into the Championship, after they failed to overturn a 1-0 deficit in their play-off semi-final against Sunderland.

They came close to doing so under the Fratton Park lights, forcing a number of top class saves from Black Cats keeper Jon McLaughlin. But they could not sustain the instensity they found at times in the first half and their efforts to save their promotion bid rather fizzled out.

Questions will remain about how Pompey have missed out after such a commanding first half of the season which took them clear at the top of the division - and there are plenty of 'what ifs' about the final couple of league games which could have seen them nick second place, or even third, which may have led to a more successful play-off semi-final.

But in the end it came down to the fact they were not quite good enough to get up and will have to have another go next season - though whether they will do that will all the star men of the 18-19 bid still on board remains to be seen.

Sunderland and their fans arrived at Fratton 1-0 to the good from the first leg thanks to Chris Maguire's goal. But they were soon under heavy pressure to hold on to that lead as Pompey started on the front foot.

Kenny Jackett's team selection had raised more than a few eyebrows with Jamal Lowe and Ronan Curtis both on the bench. But Brett Pitman and Lee Brown's returns lifted spirits.

Gareth Evans picked up an early booking for a high challenge on Lee Cattermole and Tom Naylor was unfortunate to be the only one booked after a clash with Maguire when the ball went out for a throw as Pompey pressed.

Towards the end of the first half Pompey were so close to taking the lead - twice. First Evans dived to head goalwards from an Oli Hawkins nod-on only for McLaughlin to save brilliantly, then Matt Clarke headed a cross into the ground and watched as it flew up and pinged off the bar.

Some might have wondered if Pompey would live to regret both those opportunities going begging - and they did, but not before they had gone close again in the second half.

Lowe was introduced seven minutes into the second period before Hawkins brought another great save out of McLoughlin when he headed Brown's goal powerfully towards goal.

There were flashpoints all night and there was another when Naylor and Luke O'Nien tangled on the north touchline and the Sunderland player went into the crowd and appeared to be struck.

James Vaughan was Pompey's second sub and forced another first class save from McLaughlin midway through the half.

Disappointingly Pompey created very little after that. There was plenty of effort but not a lot of fluency as Sunderland defended in numbers and frustrated their hosts. Plenty of the home fans wanted to see Curtis used as a third sub but didn't get their wish.

The feeling of frustration around Fratton was typified by Sunderland keeping the ball in the Fratton/south corner for almost half the six minutes added on.

Soon after, the whistle went and a season that for so long had offered great hope of promotion, was over without the prize being delivered. Happily a good number of fans stayed for long enough to give Pompey's battle-weary players one last round of applause.

But Blues fans can make other plans for Sunday, May 26 and it's Sunderland who will go to Wembley for one last go at achieving promotion to the Championship. Pompey's focus, meanwhile, turns to what they need to do to keep their big names and build again for next season.

Pompey (4-2-3-1): MacGillivray; Thompson, Burgess, Clarke, Brown; Naylor, Close; Evans, Pitman (c), Solomon-Otabor (Lowe 52); Hawkins (Vaughan 68). Subs not used: Bass, Walkes, Morris, Curtis, Dennis

Referee: Peter Bankes

Attendance: 18,077 (1,397 away fans)


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