The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE TWO - By Gra­ham Ot­way

PORTSMOUTH fans booed their play­ers off the pitch af­ter a hap­less per­for­mance in front of goal al­lowed Hartle­pool to earn a com­fort­able point at Frat­ton Park.

Min­utes ear­lier it had been laugh­ter mixed with boos com­ing from their mouths. They could not be­lieve it when over the pub­lic speak­ers it was an­nounced that one of the Portsmouth spon­sors had de­cided striker Michael Smith was their ‘man of the match’.

Had it been a neu­tral judge Smith, whose strik­ing lacked crisp­ness, would not have got a look-in af­ter fluff­ing the chances that fell to him or find­ing him­self frus­trated by a bril­liant per­for­mance from goal­keeper Trevor Car­son.

Hartle­pool man­ager Craig Hignett said: “We bat­tled and dug in and our goal­keeper had a mag­nif­i­cent game.

“The clean sheet was mas­sive for us af­ter last week when we let in five at home. No one switched off for a sec­ond. Ev­ery­one put a mas­sive shift in.

“The char­ac­ter of the team shone through more than the abil­ity we have got and they frus­trated Portsmouth’s play­ers and their fans.”

Smith’s to­tal in­com­pe­tence in the first half showed up when he missed two good headed chances and when put clear of the vis­it­ing de­fence he de­lib­er­ated too long over his shot and was bril­liantly tack­led by de­fender Jake Car­roll, who had chased back af­ter him.

Portsmouth dom­i­nated the ac­tion in the mid­dle of the field while Hartle­pool’s only at­tempt be­fore the break was a shot from hard-work­ing mid­fielder Josh Lau­rent which sailed way over the bar.

Portsmouth man­ager Paul Cook had started the game with the same XI for the fourth match run­ning but they only man­aged to find a cut­ting edge af­ter an hour when he in­tro­duced Kai Nai­smith and Conor Chap­lin off the bench. The lat­ter could have done with­out mis­kick­ing when clear in front of goal but even then Car­son may well have had an an­swer had he con­nected prop­erly.

He re­acted bril­liantly to block a late close-range header from Smith and stuck out a hand when Michael Doyle’s fierce low vol­ley looked goal­bound.

Cook was de­fi­ant when it was sug­gested his team had let down the 17,000 fans who chose to watch the ac­tion rather than do their Christ­mas shop­ping.

“I felt the per­for­mance was de­cent enough,” said Cook.

“Hartle­pool worked their socks off out there but we did plenty enough to win the game.

“We played re­ally well. Could the lads have done any more to win? I don’t think they could.

“We’re dis­ap­pointed be­cause the top three seem to be get­ting away from us. But no one wins the league or pro­mo­tion in De­cem­ber, Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary. We have still got 25 games to go and the

lads are do­ing OK.”

PIC­TURES: Gra­ham Hunt/ProS­ports

HANDS UP: Trevor Car­son HEADS UP: Portsmouth’s Michael Smith goes close with a header

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