Here’s what we learned from Pompey’s 1-0 away win over Exeter. There were both positives and negatives to take from the match, and Paul Cook will be keen to keep up the positives and improve on the negatives.
Pompey can “win ugly”
One of the main worries regarding Pompey is that their attractive, passing style of football will not work when they are not playing well. It is in these situations that teams have to be able to grind out victories, whether they are deserved or otherwise. One of the oldest football clichés states that the mark of champions is winning games without playing well – so hopefully Pompey can make a habit of it!
Pompey not being penalised
Despite being given very few penalties last season, and not being awarded a single one at home, Pompey have already been given two this season. Paul Cook accused some officials of being too determined not to be swayed by the Fratton Park crowd in their decision-making, causing them to give the benefit of the doubt to away teams too often. However, that jinx seems to have been thrown, and with Gary Roberts in the side, Pompey could see a number of goals from penalties this season.
Super subs have the right mentality
Once again, the game changed when Pompey’s substitutes entered the fray, this time when Conor Chaplin and Kal Naismith came on. Naismith was brought down to win the Blues’ penalty, while Chaplin was a pest to the defence, coming close on a couple of occasions. This shows that, even when players aren’t named in the starting eleven, they are still prepared to work hard for the team win themselves a starting spot.
Game management improving
Another of the main problems from last season was the vast number of late goals Pompey conceded, which led to them dropping points late in games. The last five minutes on Saturday were nervy, with the Grecians piling on the pressure. However, Pompey’s defence managed to hold firm and repel the hosts’ attacks. At the other end, Pompey showed an appetite they were by running down the clock in any way possible – namely by Noel Hunt shielding the ball in the corner for as long as possible.
The early bird catches the worm
Although the most important thing is undoubtedly winning, some Pompey fans have shown concern over the way Pompey have struggled to start well in a few matches this season. At St James’ Park, Pompey did not seem to get into their rhythm until about an hour into the game. This is fine if the Blues win in the end, but they need to start well, otherwise they will find that some games are beyond their reach by the time they start performing, as was seen against Morecambe.
Talbot needs to get right back to basics
I don’t like to single out players for having underperformed, especially not two weeks in a row, but Drew Talbot does stand out as Pompey’s weak link so far. While he has clearly been asked to get forward and offer something in attack, I wonder if he might be better served by concentrating on his defensive responsibilities and keeping things simple in attack. This is because I sometimes feel that he is trying too hard to be creative, causing him to make simple mistakes.
Pompey need to break down barriers
When out of possession, Exter worked very hard in order to form a wall between Pompey and their goal. Although they lined up less defensively than some teams do against Pompey, they still operated with ten men behind the ball for much of the game. This meant Pompey were forced to pass the ball in front of the Exeter wall for much of the match, waiting for an opening. A regular problem for the Blues has been that they are often unable to find a defence-splitting pass to break down the opposition, and that seems to be an area that still needs some work.
Management Cooking up needless problems
Yesterday was the first game of Paul Cook’s two-match touchline ban which he earned by abusing the referee in the tunnel after Pompey’s match against Morecambe. This is not the first time Cook has talked himself into trouble, having been sent off in the first leg of the play-off semi-final last season. Although losing a manager is better than losing a player, Cook needs to learn to vent his frustrations in other ways, as the team will suffer from losing their manager.
Overall, I am very pleased with the victory and, in all honesty, I don’t care what the performance is like as long as Pompey can pick up the points required to escape League Two. It is true that Pompey rode their luck against Exeter, but I’m sure there will be plenty of times this season when Pompey are unlucky, so it is important that the Blues make the most of good luck when they get it!
David Forde: 8 – Made a couple of important saves and commanded his box well.
Drew Talbot: 5 – Caught out of position a few times and seems to lack cutting edge going forward.
Christian Burgess: 6 – Not his best game but made a few good interventions.
Tom Davies: 7 – Looked confident and brought the ball out from the back well.
Enda Stevens: 7 – Offered a good option on the left but his deliveries weren’t as good as usual.
Michael Doyle: 7 – Kept the midfield ticking over and was looking to make something happen.
Danny Rose: 7 – Lack of movement in front of him but looked comfortable on the ball.
Carl Baker*: 5 – Had an off day and struggled to get into the game. Overhit most of his deliveries.
Gary Roberts: 7 – Worked hard but couldn’t make many clear chances. Reliable from the spot.
Milan Lalković***: 7 – Always trying to make something happen and looked bright. Final ball lacking.
Curtis Main**: 6 – Worked hard but was feeding off scraps and struggled to make an impact.
Conor Chaplin*: 7 – Looked bright when he came on. Selfish on a couple of occasions.
Noel Hunt**: 6 – Worked hard for the team and helped see out the game.
Kal Naismith***: 7 – Showed a great attitude to work hard despite being transfer listed. Won a soft penalty.