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VERDICT: Portsmouth 1 Bury 0
PORTSMOUTH manager Guy Whittingham admitted the best team lost after watching his side earn a smash and grab victory over the Shakers.
Pompey centre-back Bondz N’Gala glanced home an early header before helping his team-mates cling on to their advantage, in a match Bury should have won.
Great saves from stand-in keeper Phil Smith kept out two headers from recalled Bury striker Shaun Harrad, while a late Danny Mayor strike whistled past the home side’s post.
Whittingham sheepishly accepted all three points, but he was more than a little apologetic to Shakers’ caretaker boss Ronnie Jepson, eager to impress on his first game in charge following Kevin Blackwell’s sacking.
“Sometimes you don’t deserve them, sometimes you do deserve them and don’t get them,” he said.
“We have had games this season when we have played far better than that and not won the game, so you’ll take it. Having lost their manager in midweek we expected a reaction and they reacted fantastically well for Ronnie.
“He’s got to consider himself unlucky. I think they will be disappointed because they have come here and got on top of us.”
Jepson probably won’t appreciate the unlucky tag as he quietly vies for the permanent manager’s job.
After the match, Harrad, who linked up well with busy new signing Danny Hylton, became the latest player to tip Blackwell’s former assistant as his natural successor.
And the rest of the squad certainly showed their allegiance to the 50-year-old coach with a lung-busting display let down only by Nathan Cameron’s lapse of concentration, letting his man go at a third-minute corner to score what proved to be the winner.
Bury bunkered down after going behind and were rarely troubled until Jed Wallace hit the post in stoppage time.
At the other end, Harrad tested the Pompey keeper with a close-range header even before the home side took the lead.
Tom Soares and Hylton were then both felled by clumsy challenges in the box midway through the first half, only for the referee to wave away appeals for penalties. And an unmarked Soares blasted over from 15 yards on the half-hour mark.
Bury continued to press after the break, with 33-year-old Smith – in for loan signing Trevor Carson, who was unable to play against parent club Bury – blocking another Harrad header with a fine one-handed save.
And after Anton Forrester dragged a decent chance wide in the final 10 minutes, fellow substitute Mayor saw a curling 25-yard strike miss the far post by a matter of inches.
“When you come to Pompey and go 1-0 down early doors, you fear the worst,” said Jepson. “But they dug in and stuck at it.
“And you could see the relief in their (Portsmouth’s) coaching staff and the manager at the end. We were in the ascendancy for the majority of the game and the boys couldn’t have given me more than they did. I just wanted something to drop for them.”
PORTSMOUTH: Smith; Moutaouakil, Bradley, N'Gala, Devera; Wallace, Racon (Mahon 82), Ertl, Holmes; Agyemang (Barcham 82), Marquis (Bird 71). Not used: Sullivan, Padovani, Cooper, Whatmough.
BURY: Jensen 6; Beeley 7, Cameron 5, Edjenguele 6, Mustoe 6; Sedgwick 7, Miller 7 (Mayor 78), Procter 7, Soares 7; Hylton 7, Harrad 7 (Forrester 78). Not used: Hinds, Holden, Rooney, Charles-Cook, Walker.
Goals: Portsmouth 1 (N’Gala 3) Bury 0.
Yellow cards: Portsmouth – N’Gala 28, Holmes 45, Marquis 66, Racon 73. Bury – Procter 74.
Referee: Carl Berry (Surrey)
Attendance: 15,434 (497 visiting)
Star man: Danny Hylton – Ronnie Jepson said the former Aldershot striker would chase down a leaf in the wind and he was true to his word. The loan signing from Rotherham added a spark in attack and showed enough in his first appearance to suggest he could be a useful foil for either Shaun Harrad or Anton Forrester up front.
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