It was the first time Guy Whittingham had dropped Johnny Ertl from his starting line-up in 2013.
But the Pompey boss is adamant the skipper’s exclusion was nothing more than a temporary measure as he plotted to exploit Exeter.
The 30-year-old was surprisingly moved to the bench on Saturday for the visit of the Grecians, with Thery Racon taking his place in the Blues’ midfield.
Simon Ferry was promoted to captain and formed the central midfield partnership with the recalled Racon.
The result was a 3-2 success over Paul Tisdale’s high-fliers – although the game was not without its dramas, after the visitors staged a late rally.
Second-half injury concerns over Ferry had seen him replaced by Ertl with the scoreline at 3-0 and, ultimately, Pompey hung on for victory.
But Whittingham revealed the decision to leave out the ex-Austrian international was purely tactical based on the opposition.
He said: ‘We look at the opposition very carefully and think how we can break them down.
‘I thought Saturday was right for Simon and Thery to be in there, and it worked very well.
‘There has always been a sitting midfielder in our team, but Exeter don’t have a lot of height in their side so I thought, ultimately, it was the day to have some footballers on the pitch who could keep the ball moving quickly.
‘For me, it was a good game to do that, especially playing against a team who are doing well, in good form and doing well away from home.
‘Johnny has other strengths. He battles hard and what people don’t see is what he does off the ball when he is defending.
‘On Saturday, though, we felt we could do without that a little bit and instead add more to the footballing side.
‘It is about whatever suits the opposition we are playing against.
‘A lot of the time you play against a similar team so keep a similar team, but there’s always the chance if you think something is going to make a difference then you do it.
‘It doesn’t necessarily mean we will do that again in our next match.’
Not since December 29, 2012, had Ertl been dropped from the side – on that occasion for a home clash with Yeovil.
Although, he was a substitute in his first game back after a three-match ban earlier this season against Mansfield.
Still, Saturday’s visit of Exeter also marked the return of David Connolly after five matches out.
He was also named among the substitutes and featured for the last 14 minutes, coming on for Patrick Agyemang.
And Whittingham was impressed with the strength of a bench which couldn’t even accommodate loanee John Marquis.
He added: ‘David was fighting fit and raring to go. It’s nice to look around at your bench and have him, Andy Barcham and one or two others on there.
‘They are two who can really make a difference coming off the bench, while Romain Padovani is a player learning all the time and will get his chance.
‘We’ve also got Shaun Cooper, who was a bit unfortunate being left out but you’ve got reliable people on the bench.’