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VERDICT: Portsmouth 2 Bury 0
BURY’S rescue mission was supposed to begin on the south coast on Saturday, but instead a second-half salvo from David Connolly intensified that sinking feeling around Gigg Lane.
The veteran Republic of Ireland striker was calmness personified in the box, showing real class to net two goals in 15 second-half minutes.
Connolly’s expert finishing was in stark contrast to the lack of composure shown by the Shakers, who dominated a fruitless first half before slumping to their fifth defeat in six matches.
It was a turnaround that baffled assistant manager Peter Shirtliff.
“I thought the second half was appalling – on a par with the Crawley performance (a 2-0 defeat at Gigg Lane in their previous match),” said Shirtliff.
“In the first half, we looked good, and I don’t know who has switched it off.
“You come to a place like Portsmouth and you always know that they are going to have a go at some stage in the game because they’ve got a reputation of being a tough home side.
“We were in control of a football match that we should have been ahead in, but you’ve got to sustain it and drive in that second half to make it work.
“It’s very, very frustrating.”
Connolly’s 50th-minute opener followed a mix-up between Carl Regan and Ashley Eastham on the right of the Bury defence.
Jed Wallace capitalised to thread an accurate low centre through a crowd of Shakers bodies that the unmarked Pompey forward gratefully tucked away.
Bury keeper Trevor Carson could then only palm away a Johnny Ertl shot and Connolly was there again, fading to shoot before slotting home the loose ball from close range with 25 minutes remaining.
It was a bitter pill for the 366 travelling Bury fans to swallow after watching their side dominate the opening 45 minutes, only for loose finishing to deny them a vital opener.
Craig Fagan wasted the best chance in the 12th minute, pulling down a lobbed ball the penalty spot before blazing his shot over the bar.
It set the tone, with Steven Schumacher, Zac Thompson, Mark Carrington, David Worrall and Craig Jones all missing the target when confronted with half-chances.
But Bury never really created another clear opening despite having the majority of territory and possession.
“Craig Fagan knows he should have scored, but then you’ve got to create more than one chance for the striker,” said Shirtliff.
“Centre-forwards will miss chances, but you’ve got to keep it clean at the other end.
“The game was there for the taking. At half time we should have been up comfortably and then I can’t explain how we got entangled for the two goals.
“David Connolly is free in the box with no-one near him for the opener.
“He’s a centre-forward, you would think that one of our defenders would think to mark him in our box wouldn’t you?”
Portsmouth punished Bury’s profligacy, leapfrogging them to move off the foot of the table and leave the Gigg Lane outfit eight points adrift of safety, facing an unlikely rescue mission in their final 10 matches to avoid relegation.
PORTSMOUTH: Eastwood; Moutaouakil, Rocha, Gyepes, Butler; Wallace, Ertl, Racon, Walker; Agyemang, Connolly (Maloney 90). Not used: Smith, Webster, Harris, Cooper.
BURY: Carson 6; Regan 5, Eastham 5, Ebanks-Landell 5, Skarz 5; Carrington 6, Thompson 6 (Clarke-Harris 80); C Jones 5 (Bishop 65 5), Schumacher 6, Worrall 6; Fagan 5 (Ajose 83). Not used: Healy, Belford, Mezague.
Referee: Roger East
Attendance: 11,493 (366 visiting).