Two first-half goals from a revitalised Portsmouth side were enough to defeat Rochdale, who see their hopes of staying up this season take a blow.
After taking four points from fellow promotion hopefuls Lincoln City and Peterborough United in their last two fixtures, Dale travelled to Fratton Park looking to cause another upset, although they would have to do so without Stephen Humphrys, who missed out through injury.
Today's team 👊
One change to the starting line-up from our last game nearly a fortnight ago, as Kwadwo Baah comes in for the injured Stephen Humphrys 🔄#RAFC
— Rochdale AFC (@officiallydale) April 2, 2021
Unfortunately for Dale, injuries have come far too often this season and they face a busy April period potentially without regulars such as Humphrys, Jimmy Ryan and Matty Lund.
After two weeks off due to the international break, there was hope that Dale would be refreshed for the trip to Portsmouth, who had earned two wins from two since the Cowley brothers took over from Kenny Jackett in March.
Kwadwo Baah replaced Humphrys in the only change for Dale, whilst Ronan Curtis came in for the suspended John Marquis for Portsmouth, which at least meant that, no matter what the result, I wouldn’t have to be subject to Marquis’ ridiculous Connor McGregor-esque celebration that I’ve seen far too many times during his time at Doncaster Rovers.
Dale started on the front foot and there was a brief hope that we could recreate the performance from the win against Lincoln, where we dominated from start to finish.
However, as has often been the case this season, we gifted the hosts a goal through a mistake, this time from Gavin Bazunu.
The 19-year-old, who made his Republic of Ireland senior debut during the international break, has been getting some rave reviews on Twitter in recent weeks that, in my opinion, are far from justified.
He’s young, has made some good saves this season and clearly has a lot of potential, but his poor distribution and command of the box has cost us on more occasions than I’d care to remember this season.
Although I didn’t see the clearance that went straight to the Portsmouth attacker, thanks to the wonderful iFollow service showing me three replays of a tackle minutes earlier, the commentary team confirmed that despite him having all the time in the world, Curtis was able to take the pace off his clearance which directed it to a Portsmouth forward.
The ball was spread out wide to Marcus Harness in acres of space and his accurate cross found Ryan Williams at the back post for a tap-in, although there was more than a hint of offside about the Australian’s opener.
1-0 to the hosts on five minutes.
Portsmouth were having the majority of possession but good Dale pressing led to the away side winning the ball back in promising positions high up the pitch but unfortunately, and I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here, the final pass was far from good enough.
Dale looked rusty, perhaps as a result of their recent lack of match action, which might just have taken away any momentum at the worst possible time for Brian Barry-Murphy’s side.
Dale’s first real opening came when Baah cut inside only to see his deflected shot wide, whilst Connor Shaughnessy’s long throws proved to be more of a threat to Dale rather than Portsmouth, as the home side regularly won the first header and countered dangerously.
If the first goal had an element of luck about it, then the second goal was testament to the excellent passing game the Cowley’s have managed to instil in their first few weeks at Fratton Park.
An excellent move from the back eventually broke Dale’s press as a zipped forward pass made it past Shaughnessy’s desperate lunge and Michael Jacobs, who had previously missed a golden opportunity after an awful pass from Ollie Rathbone, found Curtis in a dangerous area.
The winger rolled the ball onto his left foot inside the area and found the bottom corner of Bazunu’s net, with the teenager left helpless after it went through Paul McShane’s legs.
2-0 to the hosts and perhaps game over at this point.
Dale did have a great opportunity to get one back shortly before half time, as Bazunu’s giant kick sailed over the head of Sean Raggett for Jake Beesley to run on to, but he failed to chip the ball over the onrushing Craig MacGillivray.
Half Time: Portsmouth 2-0 Rochdale
Portsmouth were more than happy to keep the ball and conserve energy in the second half, with Dale struggling to win the ball back against the efficient hosts.
On the rare occasions Barry-Murphy’s side did have the ball, they were far too hesitant to put a cross in and instead looked to work it around the box, but couldn’t find a way past a resolute defence.
Dale made positive changes and introduced the likes of Aaron Morley and Stephen Dooley in midfield, which allowed them to keep the ball better for the final half hour as they looked for a goal.
Unfortunately, there were very few chances of note for either side and Portsmouth looked comfortable in their management of the game.
That was until Alex Newby was introduced, in my opinion far too late, and he would provide the assist for Dale’s late goal, which was nothing more than a consolation.
Good work from Rathbone on the edge of the box saw him find Newby in the area and after a couple of stepovers he fired in a cross that was turned in by Beesley for his second goal in two games after his return from injury, and one that merited his efforts in constantly chasing defenders in the second half.
That would seal Portsmouth’s third consecutive 2-1 win as they moved up to fifth, whilst Dale remain bottom.
Full Time: Portsmouth 2-1
Man of the Match: Ronan Curtis