On Saturday, Paul Cook’s Pompey side embarked on a second away game in two weeks against Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium. It was a second away six-pointer in a row, after the 1-1 draw with Michael Appleton’s Oxford United on Saturday. Pompey went into the game as one of the three unbeaten sides in the top four English divisions, with only Brighton & Hove Albion and Leicester City boasting an unbeaten start to the season. The team Cook selected to try and continue the run was fairly different from the team that started last week. Michael Doyle, the captain, was unavailable for selection after he was sent off in the game against Oxford, while Nigel Atangana was unavailable due to personal reasons. Although Adam McGurk was selected to start after his goal against Oxford, he injured himself in the warm up and so had to be withdrawn from the side. Another problem was the injuries sustained to Brian Murphy; Paul Jones and Michael Poke. This meant that Aaron McCarey had to be brought in on an emergency loan from Wolves to start in goal. This meant that four changes were made from the team who started against Oxford, with McCarey in for Jones, Adam Barton in for Atangana, Danny Hollands in for Doyle and Jayden Stockley in for McGurk.
The game started well for Pompey, with the Blues dominating possession and looking comfortable on the ball. Gareth Evans, in particular, started the game well, making inroads down the left wing and causing the full back constant problems. However, it was Rovers who had the first real chance, when Adam Barton slipped in the centre of midfield, allowing for Chris Lines to run at the heart of the Pompey defence, but his pass was cut out at the last moment before anything could come of the chance. Evans had Pompey’s first chance, when he beat three players on a winding run only to see his shot saved by the Rovers ‘keeper, Lee Nicholls. The first half possession was nearly all Pompey’s, with the Blues being able to move the ball around nicely, while not troubling the goalkeeper consistently. Finally, on 29 minutes, Pompey did take the lead. Kyle Bennett took the ball down the right hand side, before crossing it in for an unmarked Gareth Evans to glance a header into the far corner of the goal to make it 1-0. Soon after the goal, Lee Brown, the Rovers left back, made inroads down Pompey’s right hand side and crossed the ball in. However, the cross deflected off Ben Davies, meaning McCarey had to be down quickly to push the ball out for a corner. The ex-Irish under 21 international then had to be alert to push away a Jermaine Easter volley to make sure Pompey went in ahead at the break.
In the second half, Rovers looked like a different side, moving the ball about crisply and starving Pompey of the possession they had enjoyed in the first 45 minutes. Sure enough, a cross from Pompey left hand side was met by the right foot of Jermaine Easter, whose shot hit the bar and bounced down and out, only for it to hit the back of McCarey’s leg and bounce in. That gave all the momentum to Rovers and Pompey were lucky not to go behind when a curling effort from Easter cannoned off the post from 30 yards out. That seemed to serve as a wake up call for Pompey, as they then got into the opposition box twice in the next five minutes. Both times the Pompey players ended up on the floor, but neither time was a penalty given, the latter occasion resulting in Conor Chaplin receiving a yellow card for diving. Soon after that, Cook decided to withdraw the young forward and replace him with the more experienced Gary Roberts, who came on to make his first appearance since picking up an injury against Barnet.
Roberts almost created a goal with his first touch, when he played in Kyle Bennett on the right hand side. The winger, who had been poor for most of the game, seemed calm as he brought the ball into the box to the edge of the six yard box before smashing his shot with far more power than was required out for a goal kick when it seemed easier to score. With 20 minutes to go, Pompey went back in front. Ben Davies played a world class ball into the penalty area that forced the goalkeeper to commit himself to the ball. Jayden Stockley snuck in in front of Nicholls to poke the ball into the bottom corner. Cook chose to make his final two substitutions in quick succession, with Kal Naismith replacing Bennett and Matt Tubbs replacing Stockley. Pompey changed their mindset to try and ensure they held onto their lead, and finally the full time whistle went.
I thought the result was a very good one for Pompey, though it was not entirely deserved. Bristol Rovers will have been very disappointed not to have got a least a point from that game, but Pompey did well to keep Rovers’ chances to a minimum while taking their own. The win puts Pompey top of league 2, and since Leicester lost 5-2 to Arsenal, one of only two unbeaten sides in the Football League. In terms of player performances, I didn’t think many players were outstanding. The best of the bunch was Gareth Evans, who worked tirelessly. McCarey was solid and did his job when called upon, and his own goal was very unlucky. Meanwhile, Kyle Bennett was very poor again, and I would not be surprised if he was dropped for the coming game against Exeter on Tuesday. Kal Naismith and Gary Roberts were both impressive when they came on, while Conor Chaplin did not show the spark that won him a place in the starting lineup, so him and Bennett might find themselves on the bench on Tuesday. Having said that, it was a great away win and Pompey will now be looking to press on and consolidate themselves at the top of the table with consecutive home games coming up.