The Imps took top spot in League One once again this evening, with a fine 1-0 win against ten-man Portsmouth at Fratton Park, the first victory there since 1977.
In case you missed it and before you read how it happened, Portsmouth had a man sent off. I thought I ought to repeat it as it was all the home commentators went on about for the entire game. I wouldn’t want you to forget it.
That aside, the Imps were a completely different side to the one turned over 3-1 at Sincil Bank earlier in the season, even before Pompey were reduced to ten men (which they were). It was a performance that was full of pace and style for 30 minutes, then packed with patience and control for the next 60. It was the performance of a side who believe in what they are doing, who understand their roles and who play for each other week in, week out.
City made one change to the side which beat Northampton at the weekend, as predicted by us earlier Conor McGrandles came in, with Morgan Rogers dropping to the bench. Pompey were unchanged after their humiliating 4-0 defeat at Hull City, meaning Ronan Curtis, John Marquis and Marcus Harness all start, all players who have torn City apart in the past.
The Imps needed a solid start and that is exactly what they produced. Within a minute a neat passage of play saw a ball into the six-yard area for Scully to run onto, but the former West Ham man couldn’t quite catch it before it ran through to Craig MacGillivray.
It was all City in the opening five minutes as the game started with real intensity. Brennan Johnson whipped a cross in from the left for Sean Raggett to clear, before an odd moment where a challenge burst the ball. Conor McGrandles launched himself into a 50/50 with Callum Johnson, coming out on top, but as the resulting ball dropped to Jorge Grant, he stopped play pointing out it had burst. There’s a first for you – the first Imps player I’ve seen who bursts a ball with a fierce (but fair) challenge.
Pompey got their first sight on 12 minutes, Tom Naylor shooting wide, but it wasn’t as much a half-chance as a quarter, or maybe even an eighth. It seemed as though frustration might have been seeping in just past the quarter-hour mark, as the frenetic start saw Harness go crudely through the back of Johnson to earn the game’s first yellow. From the resulting free-kick, City worked the ball to Johnson, who curled an effort narrowly over MacGillivray’s goal.
The pace of the game wasn’t dipping, and it was City in control. A mistake by Raggett saw Scully nip the ball away, but before he could turn it into an attack he was tugged back for another yellow card. City kept knocking on the door, creating another half-chance through Liam Bridcutt who was having a strong evening. He won possession, with McGrandles using the ball to find Tom Hopper. In a virtual identical chance to the weekend’s second goal, he squared for Scully, who saw his shot saved.
Pompey did look effective when they were allowed to put a passage of play together, and a good spell of possession saw them create a half-chance on 26 minutes, but Ryan Williams couldn’t use the half-yard he found, seeing his shot blocked by the Imps defence and run harmlessly through to Palmer.
The next major incident was anything but harmless. A ball forward from Eyoma saw Grant pick up possession in the centre circle, but Jack Whatmough leapt into the challenge and seemingly won the ball. On the second watch, he had two feet off the ground and studs showing. The referee took his time to let the situation settle, before flashing a red card.
Instantly, Pompey went into their shell and City looked to press home the advantage. McGrandles latched on to a long ball over the top and nodded at goal, only for MacGillivray to claw the ball away. After Edun picked up the first Imps booking of the game, it was McGrandles who should have put City 1-0 up. A great lofted cross from Johnson saw McGrandles arriving in the area in all sorts of space, but his header was blocked for a corner.
Pompey looked highly susceptible at this stage and it seemed as though an opener was only a matter of time for the Imps. Johnson, who caused problem both out wide and cutting inside, went on a run across the front of the box before feeding in Scully, but his shot was tame.
With just a minute left on the clock at the end of the half, City had another good chance to take the lead. This time it was Tayo Edun, impressive once again, who found space 20-yards from goal to rasp an effort towards MacGillivray. The stopper was at full stretch as he tipped the ball onto the bar and away for another corner. It was the final serious action of the half, which saw City level at half time.