Pompey 4 Notts County 0: Neil Allen's match report
Kyle Bennett rolled back his Pompey days to be the inspiration in a much-needed victory over Notts County.
For many, the enigmatic winger has rarely lived up to the promise he showed on the opening day of the campaign against Dagenham & Redbridge.
It was a startling display which earned the summer recruit two goals and the man-of-the-match award on his debut in the brilliant Fratton sunshine.
Yesterday was once again Bennett at his tantalising best, culminating in another double as Paul Cook’s men cruised to an essential 4-0 success.
It was a moment of brilliance from the midfielder which broke the deadlock on 44 minutes during a bitty and fragmented first half deconstructed by the niggling visitors.
Using his pace to effortlessly leave Elliott Hewitt in his slipstream, he then applied the finish and gave Pompey the half-time lead.
On 49 minutes he took his season’s tally to six when cleverly put through by Gary Roberts to net in front of the Fratton end.
With nine minutes remaining, Christian Burgess’ diving header from Enda Stevens’ free-kick marked his maiden goal for the club and number three.
And in stoppage-time, substitute Marc McNulty applied further gloss when he headed home Ben Davies’ free-kick.
Yet those late entries should not take the attention away from the magnificent Bennett who, when his team needed him most in this stuttering promotion challenge, rose to the task magnificently.
As for Cook, it was at last a response to the previous two below-par performances which yielded a disappointing point and weighed so heavy on the manager himself.
The Blues, though, were at their purring best yesterday, the swagger returning and late chants of ‘we want five’ certainly not unrealistic.
With eight games to go, Pompey were back to their finest – now they travel to regular graveyard AFC Wimbledon on Easter Monday looking to build on such progress.
Cook made four changes to the side which performed disappointingly in the 1-1 draw at Mansfield in their previous fixture. With Fulton unable to get clearance to feature following a recent call-up for Scotland under-21s, Jones was back in goal for the Blues.
That meant a first Pompey appearance in six months and seven days for the keeper since sustaining knee ligaments in the first half of the 1-1 draw at Oxford United – a game in which he remained on pitch for the duration.
Following four clean sheets in eight appearances on loan at Crawley, the 29-year-old was recalled by Cook this week and went straight into the team.
Elsewhere, Adam Webster dropped to the bench with a niggling injury as Matt Clarke stepped up for his first start in seven matches.
Gary Roberts’ involvement was never in any doubt following his comeback from a one-match ban, slotting in the attacking midfield three.
There was also a rare start for Adam McGurk, back in the side for the first time since last month’s 1-0 defeat at Barnet.
Out went leading-scorer McNulty and Kal Naismith to a bench which had Ben Close returning to the squad.
Yet there were no places for Adam Barton, Jack Whatmough and Ben Tollitt, while Brian Murphy continues his recovery from a calf problem.
New Magpies boss Mark Cooper named former Pompey striker Izale McLeod in his first team.
The striker had scored 10 times since an early-season switch from Crawley, the most recent last week against Exeter.
There was a minute’s silence before kick-off in memory of former Blues full-back Jack Mansell, who this week died at the age of 88.
When the match got under way, in the opening 30 seconds Bennett won a corner following good work down the left.
From the resulting set-piece, the ball was crossed into the box where McGurk completely missed his kick, while Michael Doyle’s follow-up was charged down.
Moments later there were strong appeals for a penalty when Davies burst down the right and was barged off the ball by Haydn Hollis.
The County defender was nowhere near the ball yet, much to the disbelief of many, referee Michael Bull waved away home pleas.
In a strong start, Cook was again furious when Michael Smith pressurised Andrew Boyce to hack the ball out for a corner, only for a foul to be awarded against the Pompey striker.
On six minutes, Stanley Aborah entered the referee’s notebook following a mistimed challenge on Smith, prompting a brief skirmish between the players.
At the other end, Jones came off his line well to block Rob Milsom’s charge into the box and when the ball fell to McLeod the striker volleyed it well over.
The hosts were impressing, though, and a patient build-up on 17 minutes across the edge of the penalty area saw Smith curl an angled shot just over the bar.
The Fratton faithful were beginning to turn on the referee, particularly following the grounding of Smith on two occasions, held back by a defender while attempting to control the ball.
On 34 minutes, Smith won the ball in the air, with Roberts picking it up and firing in a fierce left-foot attempt from outside the box which flew straight at Scott Loach.
Milson became the next to enter the book following a late challenge on Davies after the ball had been cleared.
The deadlock was broken on 44 minutes through pure pace delivered by Bennett.
The winger picked up the ball down the left and effortlessly beat Hewitt for pace before cutting into the area and driving in an angled shot which Loach couldn’t hold.
Seconds later, Danny Hollands was booked following a foul on Aborah and Curtis Thompson was also cautioned for a challenge on Doyle.
Pompey entered half-time a goal up and there were no substitutions at the interval.
Yet McGurk should have doubled the hosts’ advantage 60 seconds after the restart when Davies delivered a free-kick from the right.
The forward was in a great position with the goal at his mercy but his header lacked power and instead the ball went out for a goal-kick.
But it was 2-0 on 49 minutes through a wonderful move started by Roberts.
The midfielder produced a superb short pass through the County defence for Bennett to run on to and calmly slot a right-foot finish into the bottom corner of the net. Cook’s men were looking for more and when Doyle clipped the ball over the top, Roberts produced a lob which sailed fractionally over the bar.
The Magpies made a double substitution on 58 minutes with Wes Atkinson and Graham Burke replacing Boyce and Aborah.
There was a scare for the Blues when Thompson flung in a cross from the right which was dropped by Jones but he managed to take it at the second attempt with Jon Stead unable to connect. In the 64th minute, Stevens fed Smith from the left and the striker fired in a shot which was superbly blocked by the flying body of Alan Smith.
Pompey made their first substitution on 67 minutes when Naismith replaced McGurk.
Alan Smith was the next to go into the book following a blatant rugby tackle on Michael Smith on the halfway line and was then replaced by Adam Campbell.
It was 3-0 in 81 minutes when Stevens delivered a free-kick from the left and Burgess’ diving header applied the finish.
Pompey’s scoring wasn’t over, however, and McNulty wrapped matters up by powering Davies’ free-kick into the top right-hand corner of the net.
So it ended 4-0 and Pompey, guided by Bennett, find themselves back on track.