Right from the first whistle yesterday, Pompey fans could tell that they were in for a treat. There was a clear difference between the way the Blues were playing against Crawley and the way they often start games. The players started with a far higher intensity than the Fratton Park crowd are used to – and evidently a higher intensity than the Crawley players were used to as they found themselves 2-0 down after twelve minutes.
So far this season Pompey fans have seen some quality pieces of play and some flashes of brilliance, but overall performances have seemed a bit disjointed. Yesterday, for the first time, everything just seemed to click into place.
The high pressing style of play Paul Cook has been trying to impress on his players was very evident, and was implemented right through the team, starting from the strikers and going right back to David Forde herding his defenders up towards the halfway line.
It was blatantly obvious that the Crawley players were not comfortable playing under the pressure Pompey were putting on them. This was seen by the goalkeeper being rushed into booting the ball into touch on several occasions and Alex Davey being caught in possession on the edge of his own area, leading to the second goal.
The work rate of the front players was very evident. Curtis Main and Milan Lalković, in particular, never stopped running, which was very good to see when you consider the stereotype of forwards being selfish and putting their own goalscoring records before working for the team. This approach certainly worked, and was the sole reason for Pompey scoring the second goal.
Considering how hard the team worked in the first half, it is not surprising that the second half went a bit flat. Once the score got to 3-0, both sides accepted that the result of the match was no longer in doubt and Pompey were happy to ensure that they didn’t make any silly mistakes rather than trying anything which could put their position under threat.
The only change to the starting eleven which won at Exeter last week was that Gareth Evans made his first league start since the play-off semi-final second leg, coming in for Drew Talbot. Talbot picked up an injury during the week and, due to Adam Buxton also being injured, Evans was forced to fill in at right back.
The ex-Fleetwood man’s performance was encouraging, as there were no signs of Evans’ injury recurring. Although he was beaten too easily on a couple of occasions, his pace and high level of fitness allowed him to get back and recover from his mistakes. Although he is by no means a natural right back, it is good to know that Pompey have defensive cover if there is ever an injury crisis.
Although it might not be something which necessarily affects a performance, another very notable aspect of Pompey’s match against Crawley was how passionate the players were with their celebrations. When Curtis Main opened the scoring, all the outfield players rushed to join in the celebrations, and when the same man completed the rout, both the scorer and Lalković, who made the goal, were congratulated by their teammates.
Tom Davies, in particular, seems to be a very passionate player and could be seen celebrating every goal furiously, as well as showing a great level of commitment by putting his body on the line for the team. Although there have been claims that having too much passion can lead to players making mistakes, I can’t see how it is a bad thing to have players that care so deeply about their team.
The final positive to take from the game is that Curtis Main has got off the mark in the league. Neither goal was an especially difficult chance to take so I am not saying that Pompey have found a man to fire them towards promotion, but it is definitely a relief that one of the Blues’ strikers has scored for the first time this season in the league.
One of the main criticisms levelled at Paul Cook is that he chooses to operate with just one up front and that, considering his strikers are leading the line on their own, they do not score enough goals. However, the fact that a striker has weighed in with a couple of goals now takes the pressure off Cook, as it proves that using one up front can work.
On the whole, the first half performance was what won Pompey the match, which comes as a welcome change, as Pompey are often criticised for starting too slowly. If Pompey can recreate the way they started the match in future, I can’t think of many teams at this level who will be able to deal with the level of pressure Pompey will put them under.
This showing has set a benchmark which the players will now have to try and reach for the rest of the season as, if they can perform like that consistently, they will surely win the majority of their games this season.
David Forde: 7 – Didn’t have much to do but looked assured when called upon.
Gareth Evans: 7 – Worked hard as ever and looked competent at right back.
Christian Burgess: 7 – Hardly put a foot wrong all day and dominated the strikers.
Tom Davies: 8 – Good with the ball and showed great commitment to the team.
Enda Stevens: 8 – Always causes problems going forward. Good assist for Main’s first goal.
Michael Doyle: 7 – Looked comfortable on the ball. Forms a good partnership with Rose.
Danny Rose: 9 – Great showing. Forced the error for the second goal with good pressing.
Carl Baker: 7 – Not happening for him in front of goal but a good creative display.
Gary Roberts**: 9 – Another great performance and goal. Hard working off the ball.
Milan Lalković***: 9 – Very skillful player at this level and made the third goal.
Curtis Main*: 9 – Right place at the right time to score goals. Hard working off the ball.
Conor Chaplin*: 6 – Didn’t have much of an impact. Good header to play in Michael Smith.
Kal Naismith**: 6 – Worked hard but struggled to get into the match.
Michael Smith***: 6 – Should have scored when he was put through on goal by Chaplin.