A funny, old game
They say winning when not playing well is the hallmark of a good side.
The final 17 games of the season will decide if this Pompey outfit of Paul Cook’s will be remembered as a decent outfit or not.
On Saturday, however, they were a long distance short of firing on all cylinders.
And that despite looking likely to tear Accrington Stanley apart early on.
It took 45 seconds for Gary Roberts to grab a clear sight of goal, with his low drive well saved by Marek Rodak.
The ensuing corner was straight off the training ground, with a tantalising delivery met by Matt Clarke’s head.
Accrington were ‘shellshocked’, according to boss John Coleman during that opening period.
From there, however, the impetus dissipated out of Pompey’s play.
Only the ‘freshness’ of Jamal Lowe, as Cook put it, looked likely to lift the gloom descending around Fratton Park.
So Pompey perform at Wycombe and come away empty-handed. They then fail to hit their straps and bundle the three points from Accy.
Who said footie was a funny old game?
Pompey’s defending has come in for criticism at times this season. And a lot of that flak has been valid when you look at some of the eminently preventable goals conceded.
But Cook’s side now stand alone with the best defensive record in League Two.
That’s after both Blackpool and Luton shipped goals at the weekend.
A 12th league clean sheet of the season was delivered against an Accrington team who didn’t bring significant attacking threat to the table.
The Blues, though, through their own tension, did allow Coleman’s men a sniff of getting something.
When the moments of panic surfaced, however, the likes of Gareth Evans and Clarke were on hand to snuff out the danger.
When looking for the best performers on Saturday, the majority of standout players were those with defensive duties.
Pompey have been highlighting to their players they have delivered a 100-per-cent winning record when taking the lead in the league.
‘There’s a message in that,’ said Cook, with the inference that solidity could well be telling this season.
Fratton Park is a simmering theatre of nervous tension at present.
And the potential for the toxicity levels of that sense of angst to go through the roof is evident.
From a start which had all the ingredients to make it a pleasant afternoon at Fratton Park, the nerves grew.
An opening goal gave Cook’s side the scenario they wanted, with Accrington forced to shed the defensive mindset of so many visitors.
Failure to make the most of breakaway opportunities saw agitation on the rise, though, something Accrington boss Coleman sensed.
‘They’d gone,’ he noted.
‘They were panicking and all over the place when the crowd got edgy.’
Then came the curious case of the Blues’ second-half double substitution.
With Jamal Lowe’s number incorrectly raised by the fourth official, there was disappointment in the air with the hope the new boy stayed on.
That sentiment was clear, but so were the significant cheers for Gary Roberts and Kyle Bennett’s withdrawal. Whatever the mitigating factors, it was unpleasant.
Then came Kal Naismith’s ear-cupping riposte to the fan flak after his stoppage-time goal.
SOS Pompey have now felt the need to issue a call-to-arms ahead of Blackpool. That sense of unity’s certainly needed.