|Portsmouth||1 – 0||Luton Town|
Burgess header secures victory
Pompey got 2017 off to a great start by beating Luton to close the gap on the automatic promotion places.
Christian Burgess grabbed the only goal of the game by heading home from a first half free-kick.
The hosts dominated before the break, but there were a few nervy moments after it and Gary Roberts missed a penalty before the victory could finally be celebrated.
Paul Cook made one change from the side that drew at a foggy Yeovil in the final game of last year.
Noel Hunt dropped to the bench to make way for Kyle Bennett, as the Blues switched back to a more familiar 4-2-3-1 system.
The visitors’ line-up suggested they would play with more ambition than most sides who visit Fratton Park.
But it was the Blues who made the brighter start, without really testing Christian Walton in the Hatters goal.
There was then a lengthy break in play when Cameron McGeehan went down injured following a challenge with Michael Doyle and had to be stretchered from the pitch.
The game took a while to gather pace once it restarted, but Pompey soon started to impose themselves.
Gareth Evans sent a snap-shot narrowly over the bar from 30 yards, while an unmarked Carl Baker then completely mis-hit his effort from inside the box.
Bennett was next to go close when he collected a pass from Enda Stevens and sent a low drive inches past the post.
But the Blues did break the deadlock on 31 minutes after Bennett had been fouled by Stephen O’Donnell wide on the left.
Baker stepped up to send a sumptuous delivery into the box, where BURGESS rose highest to send a thumping header into the net.
He then made an important intervention at the other end of the pitch to dispossess Danny Hylton inside the area.
But most of the action was still taking place in and around the Luton box, with Scott Cuthbert forced to make a vital challenge when Evans collected Baker’s incisive pass.
And Burgess almost doubled the advantage just before the break, only to divert Kal Naismith’s corner wide.
Half Time: Pompey 1 Luton 0
Pompey started the second half as they had finished the first – and an unmarked Evans should really have done better than guiding Baker’s free-kick straight at Walton.
Naismith then delivered a dangerous cross that was just behind the onrushing Michael Smith, as the Blues looked to make their pressure count.
But Luton almost levelled when Burgess was caught in possession seconds later. Hylton stole the ball and neatly chipped David Forde, but it bounced back off the crossbar.
The visitors were certainly looking more of a threat since the interval and Forde made a comfortable stop to deny Jonathan Smith before a free-kick was nervously dealt with by Stevens.
And it was Smith who should have at least tested Forde when Hylton ran along the byline and teed-up him up, only for the midfielder to fire wide from a few yards out.
Cook made his first substitution on 68 minutes, with a refreshed Roberts coming on for Bennett.
It was a nervy period for Pompey and Forde had to palm the ball clear when James Justin took advantage of Evans’ slip to fire in a shot.
The visitors were being hampered by an injury to Hylton, however. Boss Nathan Jones had already made all his changes, so the striker was forced to carry on, cutting a forlorn figure as he hobbled around the pitch.
Pompey tried to make the most of that and one attack looked particularly promising on 75 minutes.
They broke quickly up the pitch, but Smith picked the ball up when he probably should have left it for Naismith and when his path was blocked, Baker fired high over the bar.
There was certainly a feeling of tension around Fratton Park as the clock ticked down towards a much-needed home triumph.
Roberts then missed a chance to let everyone breathe out when he fired over from the spot after Noel Hunt had been tripped in the box by Olly Lee in stoppage-time.
But the Blues saw out the final few moments to ensure there was plenty of New Year cheer on the south coast.
Pompey (4-2-3-1): Forde; Evans, Burgess, Clarke, Stevens; Rose (Linganzi 84), Doyle (c); Baker (Hunt 80), Naismith, Bennett (Roberts 68); Smith
Goals: Burgess 31
Booked: Forde, Hunt
Subs not used: O’Brien, Whatmough, Lalkovic, Chaplin
Luton (4-1-2-1-2): Walton; O’Donnell, Cuthbert (c), Mullins, Justin; Rea; Gilliead (Lee 54), Smith; McGeehan (Mpanzu 20); Cook (Vassell 54), Hylton
Booked: McGeehan, Smith, Vassell, Mpanzu
Subs not used: King, Senior, Marriott, McQuoid
Referee: Tim Robinson
Attendance: 17,402 (1,547 away fans)