Scunthorpe 5-1 Pompey

Pompey goalkeeper Trevor Carson is helpless to prevent Dave Syers opening the scoring on Saturday, via a deflection off Pompey centre-half Ben Chorley Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey goalkeeper Trevor Carson is helpless to prevent Dave Syers opening the scoring on Saturday, via a deflection off Pompey centre-half Ben Chorley Picture: Joe Pepler

We thought we’d seen the back of dark days like this.

Defensive solidity and a battling team spirit had begun to show just a few signs of things starting to come together in recent weeks.

Blues boss Richie Barker has been making it clear he feels the job facing him at Fratton Park is far greater than what he had previously thought.

It looks like he was right.

On days when Pompey have been outmuscled, outplayed and outfought so comprehensively as they were at Scunthorpe on Saturday, the immediate reaction is that there has to be some serious changes made.

The playing staff will certainly come under scrutiny for a performance every bit as disastrous as the defeats at York City and AFC Wimbledon under previous manager Guy Whittingham.

But under Barker, you can throw Bristol Rovers, Torquay and this latest shambles into the mix, on days when being a Pompey fan was on a par with a visit to a medieval dentist.

Barker certainly made his feelings clear where he felt the blame should be directed in his post-match interviews, questioning the desire of many of his own players.

But the Pompey boss is a big enough and honest enough character to know that he has to accept a sizeable chunk of that responsibility himself.

Of the Pompey side who started the game, five players were his own signings – effectively half the team.

Three more in Trevor Carson, Marcos Painter and Thery Racon could have been shown the door in January, if Barker felt they were not up to scratch,

Only Sonny Bradley, Jed Wallace and Andy Barcham were players he actually inherited, and all of them would surely have attracted interest – either in January or when the loan window opened – if he had decided they were not in his plans.

It’s all very well making suggestions there was an unholy mess waiting for the former Crawley manager at every turn the moment he walked through the door.

But the reality was that it simply wasn’t as bad as this latest performance.

Some might say if there was a mess, it’s now worse.

At the very least, if it’s a mess, Barker hasn’t yet done enough to sort it out yet.

Time and stability, he will suggest, is what is needed.

Then again, most managers do.

The bottom line is that Barker has not had the desired impact on results since his December appointment.

It is three wins, five draws and five defeats from 13 games – 14 points out of a possible 39.

However you slice it, in League Two, that is simply not good enough.

Even the three games that have ended in victory have hardly been convincing, with barely-deserved 1-0 wins over Wycombe and AFC Wimbledon.

The success over Dagenham & Redbridge could conceivably be the only victory. Then again, Pompey might have grabbed a win at Exeter or taken a point at Southend, only to concede late goals.

Ifs, buts and maybes, as they say.

Those accused of negativity when looking at Pompey’s form in recent weeks are usually informed of the much-improved defensive record under Barker.

Admittedly, there has been progress in that department – well, that was until Saturday’s humiliating capitulation at Glanford Park.

Before the game, the predictions were that Pompey would again be set up to be hard to break down, gritty and snap someone’s hand off if they were offered a 0-0 draw at a team flying high and going for promotion.

It was perhaps even more defensive than in recent weeks, with only one recognised striker playing – Jake Jervis – as Ryan Taylor was ruled out with a groin strain.

That meant Wallace was given an opportunity of playing in the hole.

Wallace is clearly a promising player on his day but, frankly, it didn’t work very well and it looked like it needed fixing more quickly than at half-time when the game was already gone.

The trouble with the traditional away-day plan is that it’s all well and good until that annoying moment when you concede a soft, early goal inside five minutes.

When that mentality of keeping things tight, staying solid and everything else that comes with it is effetively thrown out of the window, there is a pressing need to find a new strategy quickly, which can leave teams looking bewildered.

Pompey certainly achieved that look with consummate ease.

After the early hammer blow, when Dave Syers’ deflected strike hit Ben Chorley and wrong-footed Carson, Pompey actually played some decent stuff for 20 minutes or so.

But where were the efforts on goal, forcing the opposition goalkeeper into action?

The key difference was that every time Scunthorpe went forward, they looked like creating something.

Their two strikers – Paddy Madden and Sam Winnall – gave Chorley and Bradley a torrid time.

Let’s not forget that those two were outstanding in the win over AFC Wimbledon last week, but they were pretty far from outstanding this time around.

In fact, it was a bad day at the office for just about every player in a Pompey shirt.

The Iron extended their lead nine minutes before the interval when Gary McSheffrey’s clever flick found Winall, who buried his shot in the bottom corner with the look of a stiker flowing with confidence.

It was 3-0 and already game over on the stroke of half-time when Syers netted his second, as Bradley failed to deal with a long ball and Madden profited.

While Scunthorpe are a decent side, they are not Bayern Munich or Barcelona. But their work-rate was higher than Pompey’s all over the pitch.

Barker made a double change at half-time as Andy Barcham – who had actually looked one of the Blues’ better players in the first half – and Thery Racon made way for Ricky Holmes and Michael Drennan.

But their fortunes failed to improve, as Madden tapped home a fourth after Carson made a brilliant close-range save from David Mirfin – although how the ball travelled as far into the Pompey box as it did, is anyone’s guess.

The misery was extended further when Syers completed his hat-trick with a flowing move that ripped Pompey’s defence to shreds, with its speed and movement.

At that stage, it looked like six, seven or eight could be coming.

But, to be fair to Pompey, they dug in and retained their pride, before Drennan – who arrived on loan from Aston Villa on Friday – headed home in the closing minutes.

It wasn’t even a consolation.