On Saturday, the Pompey squad arrived at Gosport’s Privett Park fresh from a game against Bognor Regis the night before. That had ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw after Matt Tubbs’ tap in was cancelled out by Alfie Rutherford. This signalled the second consecutive draw to non – league opposition, and Pompey fans arrived at Gosport the next day slightly apprehensive about whether their side would be able to break that record and record their first win. With kick off approaching, Paul Cook named his starting line-up for the day. It consisted of Michael Poke; Snorre Nilsen; Chad Field; Adam Webster; Brandon Haunstrup; Danny Hollands; Ben Close; Conor Chaplin; Theo Robinson; Kal Naismith and Jayden Stockley.
This signalled a completely different eleven from the one that had played the night before, meaning that tiredness could not be an issue. As most fans agreed, the defence was Pompey’s clear weak point, with three first-year professionals and a 20 year old. To the great interest of the Pompey supporters, the visitors seemed to be coming out to play in Cook’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system from the start, rather than in other games when they had started with 4-4-2 and been fairly flat. There was good news prior to kick off as Gary Roberts, who had been injured the night before, arrived with the rest of his non–playing teammates to watch from the stands without the knee brace he had acquired after his injury.
Pompey enjoyed some early dominance, as they were able to pass the ball around nicely with the home side hardly getting a touch of the ball. After 13 minutes the early pressure paid off as youngster Conor Chaplin was able to fire into the net from the edge of the area to put the Blues 1-0 up. Nathan Ashmore in the Borough goal was able to get a right hand to the ball but could only push the ball further into the top right-hand corner. The goal came about when Kal Naismith was able to make an inroad down the right before pulling the ball back for Chaplin to smash home. That meant that Pompey went in at the break 1-0 to the good. Unlike their first pre-season game against Borough’s rivals, Havant, Pompey didn’t make any half time changes.
There were few chances after Chaplin’s opener but Gosport seemed to find their feet and were growing into the game, starting to seriously challenge their League 2 opposition. However, in the 67th minute, a well worked piece of play from Chaplin, Robinson and Adam McGurk, who had come on for Kal Naismith moments before, allowed Robinson to find himself 1-on-1 with Ashmore having been played in by Chaplin. He made no mistake and firmly side footed the ball past the ‘keeper at the near post. As well as putting Pompey two goals in front, it meant Robinson had scored his first goal for Pompey after a less than impressive half against the Hawks the week before, which will have greatly boosted the trialist’s chances of being signed by Paul Cook.
With the Blues looking to be home and dry, a lack of communication between Michael Poke and Brandon Haunstrup allowed Justin Bennett to nip between them and poke the ball into the net. Just a minute later, Jamie White found himself bearing down on Poke’s goal and was able to push it into the far corner and past the onrushing ‘keeper. This showed that this side’s defensive insecurities were more than just on paper and will have given the Pompey boss food for thought on whether he needs to recruit another defender or two or whether he can rely on this back four if his first choice defenders get injured.
The last 15 minutes were nerve-racking for the Fratton Faithful, as Poke twice had to deny Bennett and Ramsey with smart stops. However, with just a minute left of normal time, Jayden Stockley found himself on the end of a long ball and was able to engineer a cut-back to man of the match Chaplin who reversed the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of Ashmore’s net. Relief filled fans and players alike, as the 18 year old brought an end to Pompey’s run of draws against non-league clubs. The young striker’s performance was one of few bright sparks in what was a disappointing performance from the away side. However much people claim that the results in pre-season don’t matter, the players go out to win every game they play, and if they are struggling to do that against this kind of opposition, there could be problems when the League season starts.
Cook will have this in mind as he and his side prepare for Pompey’s first proper test of pre-season against Coventry on Tuesday night at Westleigh Park. He will be desperately hoping that everything will start to come together and that the Blues can live up to their favourites tag for the League 2 title, something they have failed to do for the past two seasons.