Blades match report: Portsmouth 3 Sheffield United 0

Chris Porter  - Sheffield United.  ''� BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Chris Porter - Sheffield United. ''� BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
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The Fratton Park faithful reckoned it was just like watching Brazil.

But Portsmouth achieved this result, which ended Sheffield United’s slim hopes of automatic promotion, through application and desire rather than skill or free-flowing football.

The terraces, celebrating their club’s purchase by a supporters’ trust and exit from administration, might have reverberated to a samba beat.

On the pitch, however, it was Portsmouth’s sheer will to win which ultimately did for Chris Morgan’s side.

The sight of three goals being conceded in 11 first-half minutes prompted the visiting manager, tasting defeat for the first time since taking charge just over a week ago, to admit United had received a “kick-up the a**e” and defender Danny Higginbotham to deliver an equally frank assessment of his own.

“We didn’t play to our potential and we have to accept full responsibility for that as a team,” Higginbotham said. “We weren’t good enough, plain and simple.

“Nobody goes into a game looking to deliberately take their foot off the gas but they were the better team and we have to accept that.

“I’ve always been firmly of the belief that there are no excuses as a footballer. You can’t hide behind this reason or that reason. You’ve got to confront things head on.

“They deserved to win and we weren’t good enough. It was as simple as that.”

Saturday’s display, which means United must now plot a course through the play-offs in order to reach the Championship, was an affront to the principles Morgan and his assistant, David Unsworth, hold dear.

Both ferocious competitors during their own careers at the coalface, they must have winced at the listless, lethargic contributions delivered by those key names apparently lulled into a false sense of security by Portsmouth’s impending relegation.

Morgan, whose coaching credentials nevertheless received a glowing recommendation from former colleague Jonny Ertl, bravely tried to shoulder some of the blame for a defeat which leaves United sixth in the League One table ahead of tomorrow’s penultimate fixture Crewe Alexandra.

“The lads weren’t at the races. We came into this on the back of two tough matches although as professional athletes you should be able to handle that. But I’ll have to reflect on whether I should have freshened things up,” he said.

In truth, though, responsibility lay full square at the feet of those who allowed the likes of Ertl and Patrick Agyemang to go about their business without encountering any real resistance.

All three of Portsmouth’s goals, scored by Shaun Cooper, David Connolly and the excellent Jed Wallace, were wholly avoidable.

“We’ve got to hold our hands up,” Higginbotham continued. “We didn’t, for whatever reason, out ourselves about as we should.

“So, what we’ve got to do now is look at why, look at what we did wrong as players out there, work hard and put things right.

“Dust ourselves down, pick ourselves up and rectify it straight away.”

United, whose previous two outings under Morgan’s stewardship bristled with passion, attacking intent and desire, appeared to be establishing a foothold in the contest when Cooper, climbing above Tony McMahon to convert Agyemang’s cross to the far post, pounced.

Connolly doubled Portsmouth’s advantage moments later after ghosting in front of his marker following Wallace’s centre.

Theteenager, who had got the better of Kevin McDonald to instigate the move which led to Cooper’s opener, ensured the hosts’ impressive run of recent results continued when Connolly’s centre was allowed to trundle across keeper George Long’s penalty box.

“To go three down inside 30 or so minutes is criminal,” Morgan said.

“We weren’t undone tactically because it was 4-4-2 versus 4-4-2 out there.

“It was all about ‘between the ears’ and we’ve told the players that.”

Portsmouth, having called upon the services of over 50 players during arguably the most troubled campaign in their history, have finally discovered a sense of direction and purpose having persevered with Guy Whittingham following his difficult start at the helm.

Whittingham enjoys legendary status in these parts having made over 180 appearances for the South Coast club and looks set to be granted an opportunity to stamp his own mark on the squad he inherited from Michael Appleton.

Morgan, irrespective of United’s failings here, deserves a chance to do the same.

A fearless defender before injury forced him into early retirement, the 35-year-old speaks with the candour and eloquence of someone who possess both the attitude and intelligence to forge a successful career in the dug-out.

“Morgs has got a very bright future ahead of him,” Ertl said. “I had the pleasure of working with him during my time at Bramall Lane and he’s a natural leader without a shadow of a doubt.

“There’s a presence about him and when he walks into a room you stand up and take notice because of everything he has achieved and done for the club.

“Morgs is, quite rightly, a United legend and he’s got all the attributes to do an excellent job.”

“I am pleased for us today,” the Austrian added. “We’ve had a lot of ups and down but hopefully, with the takeover, we can now start to go forward.

“I also sincerely hope that Sheffield United go up. And, despite what happened here, I am sure they are capable of doing it.

“They’ve been right in contention all season for a reason. And that is because, irrespective of what people might think when they’re hurting, they are a very, very good team.”

Chris Porter had gone close to breaking the deadlock with a powerful header during the early skirmishes but McDonald’s attempts to bundle the striker’s effort across the line was thwarted while Higginbotham, replacing the suspended Harry Maguire, flashed wide following another McMahon set-piece.

McMahon, whose involvement was later curtailed by what Morgan described as a “long-standing Achilles problem,” also looped wide as United searched for a route back into the contest.

“The beauty of football is that you always get an opportunity to respond,” Higginbotham said. “And that’s what we’ve got coming up now: a chance to bounce back.

“Listen, it’s the play-offs now and they are what they are. We want to go into them with momentum and confidence behind us.

“Make sure have a positive outlook and mood.”