Portsmouth 0 Shrewsbury Town 0 - Report and pictures
Shrewsbury Town picked up a handy point on their return to league action with a goalless draw in the curtain-raiser at Portsmouth.
Sam Ricketts’ side edged a lively first period but had to survive pressure applied by their hosts after the break and ended with 10 men after Aaron Pierre’s second yellow card deep into stoppage time.
There was a lot to be encouraged about from a blue and amber persuasion at an empty Fratton Park as Football League action made its comeback some six months after Covid-19 brought the game to a halt.
There was a clean sheet for debut Town keeper Matija Sarkic, who looked confident and composed throughout and made a key last-gasp save to ensure the point.
Impressive performances in Shrewsbury white came in the shape of midfield pair Brad Walker - who went closest for Salop with a first-half header that hit the woodwork - and Scott High.
Another high point was the introduction from the bench late on of skipper Ollie Norburn, making his comeback after the knee surgery he underwent in February.
Shrewsbury were drilled and organised in defence, meaning little work for new keeper Sarkic against last season’s play-off semi-finalists.
Ricketts’ side’s pressing was a feature of their good first-half play. At times Kenny Jackett’s hosts were unable to cope with Town’s intensity.
Shrewsbury had to dig in late on and did so for an impressive clean sheet and very welcome point for starters ahead of what will be a demanding season ahead.
The chief debate among Town fans before the first league game of the season was who would be between the sticks for their side.
New loan signing Sarkic only met and trained with his new team-mates at Sundorne Castle for the first time yesterday.
Harry Burgoyne started for Ricketts’ side eight days earlier in the Carabao Cup at Middlesbrough, where a couple of costly errors were punished by the Championship side.
And Sarkic, despite minimal time with his new squad after international duty with Montenegro, was given the nod at Fratton Park. It was a Football League debut for the ex-Villa keeper, who so impressed in Scotland with Livingston last term.
Pierre returned to the Town XI after sitting out the trip to Boro. Ro-Shaun Williams shuffled over to the right of the back four, meaning no place for Donald Love, who was caught out positionally at the Riverside.
There was also an unexpected place in midfield for Walker, the deepest of a midfield three of High and Josh Vela - who returned from suspension. Dave Edwards, Ryan Sears and Sean Goss did not make the matchday squad. There was a place on the bench for Norburn, who ended his eight-month injury lay-off with the final 12 minutes.
Salop’s front three was the same as the trio that caused Boro all manner of problems in the cup.
Pompey, in their third game of the new campaign after League Cup and EFL Trophy contests, were aiming to preserve unbeaten home league form that stretched back to the season before last - going the entire of last season without defeat at Fratton Park.
Ex-Town keeper Craig MacGillivray started between the sticks in place of the injured Alex Bass. Bryn Morris was in midfield with James Bolton on the bench. Two of Jackett’s side’s three summer recruits, Callum Johnson and Sean Raggett, started.
As is the new normal, an empty Fratton Park - with its capacity around 20,000 - proved an eerie backdrop to the League One curtain-raiser.
The visitors had to adjust to unfamiliar surroundings, using a temporary dressing room underneath the towering Fratton End ahead of kick-off and at half-time, to minimise the risk of contact with the opposition ahead of battle.
Town were aiming for a second straight opening-day victory over Pompey, with Ryan Giles’ rocket into the top corner one of the highlights of last season.
After a break from league action extending to some 189 days, Shrewsbury were bright in the opening exchanges. They forced a corner inside 30 seconds, which Portsmouth were unconvincing in defending.
Ricketts’ side were sharp in their closing down, a feature the manager is intent on seeing this season. Jason Cummings was a little over-enthusiastic and picked up a yellow card for catching Gareth Evans five minutes in.
Pompey midfielder Morris gave Sarkic an early tester from distance after turning Walker but the Shrews keeper, after palming away the initial shot, was able to gather.
Sarkic showed some good footwork and cut a particularly vocal figure, his booming voice echoing around the empty arena, only eclipsed by the demanding Ricketts.
Home left-back Lee Brown fizzed a cross-shot across Town’s goal but the visitors were the brighter of the sides and inches from the lead on 12 minutes.
Shaun Whalley’s corner from the right was met by Walker who climbed above his marker and powered a header that dropped agonizingly on to the top right angle of post and bar.
The rebound shot quickly out to captain Ethan Ebanks-Landell, who could not react and shanked wide from six yards with his weaker left foot.
Town were catching the eye. Their pressing was intense and more often than not Portsmouth could not deal with their visitors’ energy. League debutant Scott High and midfield colleague Walker led the way with impressive displays.
Shrews, all in white, were the better side but a simple long ball was almost their undoing on half hour.
Defender Jack Whatmough launched a long ball that had forward John Marquis scampering beyond the Town backline. Salop were slow to react and had to make up ground. Pierre caught Marquis just outside the box, slightly right. The hosts called for a dismissal but Pierre joined Cummings in the book.
Brown sent the left-footed free-kick narrowly wide of Sarkic’s far post, with the keeper scampering across to get there.
Whalley was the third visiting player to pick up a booking after just 34 minutes of Town’s high-octane start.
Portsmouth were beginning to work their way into the contest, though, and encouraged by the sound of supporters gathering outside Fratton Park, including the famous chiming Portsmouth bell.
Jackett’s men edged the closing stages at the first period but Shrewsbury always looked a danger whenever they nicked back possession, with Vela enjoying a growing influence.
Shrewsbury closed the first period with a decent effort on goal as Pyke, who had largely been defended well, climbed to flick a header wide from Scott Golbourne’s left-sided cross after neat build-up from Vela and Cummings.
Pompey leading striker Marquis almost lit up the contest at the beginning of the second period after latching on to a ball down the right channel, spotting Sarkic slightly off his line, the frontman sent a cute chip wide across goal.
Walker looked like a different player and had been Town’s star man and strengthened that case further with another powerful drive through midfield into the box after a neat move.
The former Wrexham man unfortunately lost his bearings in front of goal and dragged a fierce low finish well wide across goal.
The contest was an open one despite the lack of openings in front of goal. Both Harness and Pompey sub Andy Cannon reached the byline for the hosts but Town were organised in the middle and defended well in front of the commanding and confident Sarkic.
Portsmouth, beaten play-off semi-finalists when football resumed in July, worked an opening as Cannon volleyed into the box defender Whatmough, whose low shot on the swivel was saved comfortably by Sarkic.
Ricketts’ first change was a league debut for Fulham loanee Marlon Fossey for Williams, who was cramping up, at right-back.
Pompey skipper Tom Naylor unleashed a stinging volley from outside the box but fortunately for Town it was straight down the throat of Sarkic.
Salop kept clocking up the cautions. Vela and Fossey both collecting deserved yellow cards around the midpoint of the second half to take Town’s tally to five as Portsmouth applied some pressure.
Golbourne’s touch was decisive in ending a break from the home side. The left-back enjoyed another steady afternoon.
Portsmouth’s left-back Brown almost broke the deadlock in style from a free-kick some 40 yards out on the left touchline. He appeared to spot Sarkic off his line and a fine drilled effort was just about tipped over by the back-pedaling goalkeeper.
Soon after home defender Raggett sent a header from Cannon’s corner on target but Golbourne was in place to clear.
Salop's case for digging in for a point was boosted 12 minutes from time as skipper Norburn entered the action for his first appearance since the 2-2 Meadow draw with Liverpool in January.
Pompey had been the better side in the second half but both teams were pushing for late drama and Town almost stole a winner against the run of play as Pyke’s rising drive from an uncleared corner was kept out by MacGillivray.
Naylor’s header flicked the crossbar on its way over the top as Sarkic looked to have it covered.
Into five minutes added time and Town found themselves one down on personnel as they were made to pay for the earlier cautions, with Pierre picking up a second yellow after a couple of untidy attempted clearances.
The resulting free-kick, central from 25 yards out, was almost the last kick and Town debutant Sarkic got down low to his right to make a superb save to deny Brown, preserve his clean sheet and earn Shrewsbury a very welcome point.
MacGillivray; Johnson, Whatmough, Raggett, Brown; Naylor (c), Morris; Harness (Williams, 69), Evans (Cannon, 54), Curtis; Marquis.
Subs not used: Turnbull (gk), Close, Harrison, Bolton, Pring.
Shrewsbury Town (4-3-3):
Sarkic; Williams (Fossey, 71), Ebanks-Landell (c), Pierre, Golbourne; Walker, High, Vela (Norburn, 78); Cummings (Barnett, 84), Pyke, Whalley.
Subs not used: Burgoyne (gk), Love, Daniels, Udoh.
Referee: Charles Breakspear