PITMAN’S STILL A TOP HITMAN
NEW Portsmouth manager Kenny Jackett made it clear in the build-up to the season-opener at Fratton Park that he is urgently looking to sign a midfielder who can dominate games.
And during a goalless first half, with Rochdale down to ten men after the thoroughly deserved 20th-minute red card shown to defender Keith Keane, there was no evidence to suggest he should call off the search.
Rochdale were never going to be easy opponents for the newly-promoted League Two champions, having finished in the top ten of Leauge One in each of the last three seasons.
But there were so many shortcomings on both sides that neither goalkeeper had to stretch a single muscle to make a save in the first 45 minutes.
Nor any suggestion that Rochdale would wither after Keane’s dismissal for a tackle from behind on Conor Chaplin as the Pompey striker raced through the visitors’ defence.
However, a few seconds of footballing class from Brett Pitman, on his debut for Portsmouth after signing from Ipswich, less than a minute after the restart saw the game turn into a tense and incidentfilled encounter.
Made the new Portsmouth captain by Jackett, Pitman picked up a pass and rode three desperate tackles before planting a low shot underneath the diving Josh Little.
Pompey might have had a second in the 67th minute when Kyle Bennett shot high and wide with only Little to beat, but referee Lee Probert ensured the match would end on a knife egde.
Nine minutes from time, he showed his red card for a second time to Portsmouh substitute Jamal Lowe after he smashed his boot into the right shin of Jamie Allen as he attempted to clear a corner.
But Rochdale’s hopes were not helped by the fact that manager Keith Hill had already used all three of his subs and the sight of Allen limping off in agony meant the visitors were going to end the match with nine men.
They did press forward but that left a huge gap at the back for Pitman to steer a header home in the first minute of injury time.
Hill said: “In general terms, I was happy with our performance and Lee Probert gave a fine performance and I told him it as he walked off the pitch. He got all the key decisions right.”
And Jackett was equally generous to Probert over Lowe’s dismissal, saying: “I was a long way from it but Lee made the decision quickly and seeing the damage to Jamie Allen’s sock, it was clearly a high tackle, even if it wasn’t deliberate – and Lee was closer to it.
“I played against Brett when he was at Bournemouth and getting two goals in his first game will take all the preseason pressure off him.
“I was also delighted with keeping a clean sheet and the win. It was only the first game but we got the three points.”
AT THE DOUBLE: Brett Pitman celebrates his goal. Inset: Keith Keane is sent off for a professional foul