Portsmouth came out trumps this afternoon at Fratton Park after putting a nine-man Mansfield side to the sword with a flurry of late goals. The final score was 4-0, although it could easily have been more with some more clinical finishing from the Blues’ attacking players. Nevertheless, a victory of any kind – let alone one of that margin – should ever be greeted by boos from the home fans and unfortunately I felt they slightly overshadowed the victory.
Pompey went 1-0 up early on through a Gary Roberts penalty when Kyle Bennett was brought down in the area. From that point on Pompey controlled the possession and seemed comfortable, with the exception of one minor blip when James Baxendale hit the post for the visitors. Set pieces continued to be a slight concern, but on the whole Pompey were well on top and a Carl Baker effort just before half-time cannoned off the post to signify Pompey’s dominance.
The start of the second half played out along the same lines as the first, with Pompey controlling the game and Mansfield having to be content with sending long balls forward to Matt Green on the rare occasions on which they had the ball. The game changed, however, after 57 minutes when the Stags’ centre-back, Kyle Howkins, earned himself a needless red card. A couple of minutes earlier he had dallied on the ball and had his pocket picked by Conor Chaplin, who he then had to cynically bring down on the edge of the area, earning a yellow card. Howkins then lost out to Chaplin again, who he dispossessed before having a rush of blood to the head and taking Kyle Bennett’s legs from under him to earn an early bath.
Pompey found themselves being able to carve open the away defence more easily from that point on, with a great chance falling to Gary Roberts inside the six yard box, but the scouser prodded wide. Chaplin then found himself played through on goal by Doyle, but the academy graduate dragged his shot wide of Scott Shearer’s post. Michael Doyle then also saw his long-range effort zip agonisingly wide, before Alex Iacovitti went in late on Pompey’s captain to put his side down to nine men. It was a studs up challenge which deservedly earned him an early bath and effectively ended the game as a contest.
In response to the second red card Paul Cook brought on Kal Naismith and Noel Hunt for Kyle Bennett and Gary Roberts, trying to make the most of the numerical advantage by introducing an extra striker. The chances continued to flow for Pompey, with Doyle having another good attempt for range and Carl Baker seeing a shot well saved by Shearer, as well as countless balls flying across the face of goal. It was at that point that the boos started, with many fans finding it unreasonable that a team would be content to keep the ball in a winning position, waiting for their moment to break down the opposition defence.
That moment came in the 84th minute, with Pompey fans booing a couple of backwards passes which eventually led to Kal Naismith squaring for Hunt to score. As soon as the ball hit the net, Michael Smith was introduced to replace Conor Chaplin. At that point the Stags seemed to lose all hope and barely got another touch of the ball. Four minutes later, Carl Baker jinked through a couple of challenges into the area and drove a shot towards goal which deflected through Shearer’s legs and into the goal. Deep into added time Baker again got his name on the scoresheet as he cut inside from the right wing and unleashed a left footed drive into the far corner to wrap up a successful day for Pompey.
Of the players that started I felt Kyle Bennett probably had the best game, winning the penalty and causing the defence problems with his pace and direct running. Bennett has been one of the standout performers for me in recent weeks and I think he is starting to get back to where he was last season with his performances. Roberts and Chaplin will both be slightly disappointed with the chances they missed, but neither had a shocker and, despite the fact Carl Baker could have had a hat-trick, I didn’t think he was outstanding either. Along with Bennett, the man of the match for me was Enda Stevens, who was always an option on the left wing and offered a great outlet for the defence and midfield.
Pompey will certainly view the game as a success, and with good reason as it ended a run of three consecutive home defeats (not including the Checkatrade Trophy). I was even more pleased with the margin of victory as I felt it put some of the supporters in their place. I mentioned after last week’s loss to Wycombe that booing was unnecessary in the current situation, and I was especially pleased that Noel Hunt’s goal came directly from a move which was booed as it put into perspective just how much more the team and the manager know about football than some of the fans. It is for this reason that we will hopefully see a greater backing being given to Cook now that some of his vocal critics have been embarrassed. I look forward to Pompey’s trip to Cheltenham next weekend, where they will hopefully be able to string a run of wins together as they look to continue their rise up the League Two table.
David Forde: 7 – didn’t have much to do but commanded his area well.
Gareth Evans: 7 – is making the right-back spot his own and Talbot will have a challenge to win his place back.
Christian Burgess: 8 – another commanding performance – his partnership with Clarke is developing well.
Matt Clarke: 7 – fast establishing himself as Burgess’ long-term partner.
Enda Stevens: 9 – solid at the back and dangerous going forward as always.
Michael Doyle: 8 – kept the midfield ticking over and shielded the back four.
Danny Rose: 7 – a consistent performance, if not an outstanding one.
Carl Baker: 7 – took his goals well but not much else went right for him.
Gary Roberts*: 7 – wasn’t as sharp as usual but scored another penalty.
Kyle Bennett**: 9 – a huge creative influence – really starting to come into his own.
Conor Chaplin***: 7 – failed to put away a great chance but was a menace as usual.
Noel Hunt*: 7 – in the right place at the right time to score – worked hard.
Kal Naismith**: 7 – struggled to get into the game. Good assist for Hunt’s goal.
Michael Smith***: 6 – didn’t have long enough on the field to make an impact.