On Thursday night I was able to watch Pompey from an unusual vantage point as they travelled to the Keepmoat Stadium for their match against Doncaster Rovers as, for the first time in what seemed like ages, they were live on Sky. The clash was a very important one as it saw the league leaders take on the side in fourth place, and it promised to be a fascinating encounter. Unfortunately for the visitors, the game finished 3-1 to their hosts which saw Doncaster extend their advantage in the league over Pompey to ten points.
Despite what is being posted on the various Pompey social media groups, it was fairly obvious to me that Pompey did not play badly on the whole. David Forde did not really have anything to do other than the three goals, whereas Marko Marosi made two great saves in the Rovers goal. Not to lay the blame on Forde as I don’t think he had any chance with any of the three goals, but had things gone slightly differently the result could easily have been different. In fact, in terms of the attacking phase of the pitch, Pompey had the better of the match in my view. If Marosi had not had such a good game and if Pompey had taken their opportunities then it would have been a whole different story. I think a draw would have been a fair result but that just shows the fine margins of football.
Having said that, there were elements of the performance which were simply not good enough. The defence looked shaky right from the start and was shown by the way John Marquis was able to nod the ball into the corner of the goal after five minutes completely unchallenged. Normally Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess have a very good defensive partnership but they seemed to really struggle on Thursday night and there looked to be a lack of communication between the back five as a whole. Both the first and third goals were down to a lack of communication between the centre-backs and the full-backs, as John Marquis got in between the centre-back and the full-back for both his goals. Meanwhile, the second goal was also a mistake from Gareth Evans as his challenge on Tommy Rowe on the edge of the penalty area was fairly half-hearted, allowing the midfielder to lash the ball into the top corner. All in all it was a pretty disastrous defensive performance from Pompey.
Paul Cook was understandably angry at the result and performance on Thursday night, and he put the defeat down to the team being arrogant and not showing their hosts enough respect. I can certainly understand what he means, as the Blues looked careless with their passing at times and, most tellingly, were putting far more impetus on their attacking duties than their defensive responsibilities. Gareth Evans and Enda Stevens were both pushing very high up the pitch when the Blues were in possession which resulted in Doncaster being dangerous on the counter attack.. The second goal came from just such a situation as Gareth Evans was caught out of position allowing Rowe to score. They would probably be able to get away with this against weaker opposition as they would be less potent in attack, but not against the league leaders. This is the perfect example of the arrogance being shown by the team, as they underestimated the opposition’s capabilities. Another instance in which arrogance was shown by the Blues’ players was when, on more than one occasion, players went into challenges half-heartedly, not putting in the commitment required to be successful in big matches. I can clearly remember Danny Rose pulling out of a 50/50 challenge in midfield, while Gareth Evans didn’t cover himself in glory for the second goal with his tackle. While someone like Michael Doyle can always be relied upon to show the necessary commitment in the tackle, I’m not sure that every other player in the side can be.
Many people have been pointing fingers at Michael Smith for the lack of shots on target and goals Pompey had during the match, but I disagree that the striker was at fault. He is not the kind of player who is on the pitch to make his own chances; he needs the ball supplied to him in goalscoring positions. That, simply, didn’t happen regularly enough against Doncaster. The only two chances I remember Pompey making were the goal and Milan Lalkoviċ late header, as well as Matt Clarke’s header which was saved. Although the Slovakian should definitely have scored, three chances in a 90 minute match is simply not good enough. That was mainly due to the poor crossing from the full-backs. They had several chances to get good balls into the box but were just unable to set up any good chances. Stevens, in particular, had a rare off day with his crosses and seemed happy to drive the ball low into the penalty area where it was invariably cut out at the near post. Milan Lalković put some good crosses in when he came on but it was too little too late, and that area has to improve if Pompey are to continue their promotion challenge.
Although the defeat is certainly disappointing, it is not the end of the world as there are still plenty of matches left for Pompey to get up into the top three. Assuming the top teams win their game in hand Wycombe Wanderers will go two points above Pompey and the Blues will be seven points behind third place. Even that would not be disastrous as Pompey are still to play most of the other promotion contenders for a second time and there are over 40 points still to play for before the season is over. The supporters need to stand by Paul Cook and continue to support the side in order to give them the best chance possible of finally winning promotion. When the Blues host Leyton Orient on saturday they will have to try and get back to winning ways to get the defeat out of their systems and push on for the remainder of the season.