Yesterday Pompey were held to a goalless draw when they hosted Hartlepool United – a result which was considered disappointing as the Pools went into the match in 19th place. However, I am honestly not sure that Paul Cook or his players could have done much more than they did to win the match, as they created numerous chances but were rebuffed time and again by ex-Pompey ‘keeper, Trevor Carson.
The Northern Ireland international made a string of unbelievable stops to keep his side in the match, and were it not for him the score could easily have been four or five nil to the Blues. Michael Smith, Gareth Evans, Conor Chaplin, and Michael Doyle all saw efforts saved spectacularly by the Pools ‘keeper and, while a good goalkeeper might have been expected to keep out a couple of the efforts, to save all of them is nothing short of a miracle. While Carson was not a bad player during his spell at Fratton Park, I think his performance is a prime example of a player raising their game both against their old club and in front of the 17,000 crowd.
At times, I did think the finishing from Pompey wasn’t quite ruthless enough. You can admire all of Trevor Carson’s saves as much as you like, but the truth is, on some of the occasions, the ball should have been put well out of his reach. This was summed up by Michael Smith’s chance in the first half when Carl Baker chipped in a perfect cross for him, only to see Smith’s header land tamely at Carson’s feet. Similarly, Conor Chaplin had a late header from about six yards out which should have been put closer to the corner of the goal. As it was, Chaplin’s header was very powerful but Carson was able to get a strong right hand on it to push it over the crossbar.
At one point Pompey actually beat Trevor Carson, but Gary Roberts’ chip didn’t have quite enough on it and was hooked off the line by a retreating defender. Sometimes in football you can just tell it is not going to be your day, and that was certainly the case yesterday for Pompey. Within 15 minutes of the match starting I heard someone say “this is going to be 0-0.” The positives to take from the game are that, when it wasn’t Pompey’s day, they still came out of the match with a point. I would not have been at all surprised to see Hartlepool score to secure a thoroughly undeserved win with their only shot on target, but fortunately that didn’t happen. One of Paul Cook’s favourite phrases: ‘if you can’t win, don’t lose.’
I am not one of those who believe that any game Pompey fail to win is the manager’s fault, and I don’t think he could really have done anything more to try and win the game. He made two attacking changes in bringing Kal Naismith and Conor Chaplin on for Gary Roberts and Kyle Bennett, then later sacrificed Danny Rose in midfield to allow him to bring on an extra striker in the form of Noel Hunt. Few could argue that any of those changes were not made with good reason, although there is an argument to say that the final change could have come sooner. Personally I felt that Carl Baker, rather than Bennett, should have been taken off in favour of Naismith but I can certainly see why Cook wanted to keep the scouser on the field. Naismith made a really good impact when he came on and supplied several good balls in which Pompey almost scored from. However, what they really lacked was some cutting edge in the penalty area. Oh, and some luck!
However disappointing yesterday’s result was, if you had offered me four points from the matches against Grimsby and Hartlepool I’d have taken them. Pompey still sit in fourth place and, with the busy Christmas period just around the corner, they are the prime candidates to replace any of the top three who have a shaky run of form. Pompey’s great squad depth could also come into play in the coming weeks which would give them a huge advantage over opponents who are tired from the the congested schedule. The important thing is that Pompey write this off as a bad day at the office and ensure that they pick up maximum points at Newport County on Boxing Day.