Today Pompey grabbed three vital points when they overcame Accrington Stanley at Fratton Park. It meant the Blues avoided the unwanted record of suffering three consecutive defeats in League Two, a statistic which would certainly have cast doubts on their promotion credentials but, while it may not have been pretty, it was a job well done.
They say the mark of a good side is winning when they are not playing well, and that was certainly the case for much of the game today. In fairness to the home side their opponents were hardly playing flowing football, but Pompey will have been disappointed not to have converted their great start into a comfortable victory and there were times when neither side could get any real control of the ball. The passing was not always the most accurate for a side who pride themselves on playing a good brand of football, but I’m sure if you offered any Pompey fan a scrappy win before kick off they would have been perfectly happy to accept.
The Blues have so far won every game this season in which they have scored first, so when Matt Clarke headed home unmarked from Gary Roberts’ cross in the second minute of the match the signs were looking good. The early goal gave Pompey a platform to go on and win by three or four goals but unfortunately they failed to capitalise fully on the opportunity. The attacking players were stretching the defence right from the first whistle, and looked reinvigorated with Eoin Doyle leading the line. Jamal Lowe and Gary Roberts, in particular, seemed to be playing with more confidence and believed they could beat players where they might once have taken the easy option of a backwards pass. The goal came from a short corner routine when Roberts exchanged passes with Eoin Doyle before finding Clarke unmarked at the far post with a cross.
However, the game then lulled into a scrappy affair with neither side creating any concrete chances and Pompey losing their positive momentum. The match was an exhibition of League Two football, with moments of class such as Jamal Lowe gliding past defenders and several less flattering moments with both goalkeepers arrowing kicks into the stands on a couple of occasions. That inevitably led to sections of the crowd becoming frustrated as the game went on and there were murmurs of discontent when the Blues went in at half-time, despite the fact that they were a goal in front and did not look in any real danger of conceding. The match did not really become any more exciting until the final fifteen or so minutes, with Matt Clarke again coming closest to scoring with a header.
Towards the final knockings of the game Accrington came into it more and looked far more dangerous. Both Matt Clarke and Gareth Evans were forced to make last ditch blocks to prevent the ball arrowing towards goal, and David Forde will have been thankful that Stanley failed to capitalise on a couple of errors when he dropped a cross and failed to gather a shot, leading to a goal line scramble. However, the decisive moment came when Noel Hunt released Kal Naismith inside his own half, and the winger was able to slot past the keeper to seal the win for the hosts. The two substitutes combined brilliantly in injury time to start a rapid counter attack and put the win beyond doubt. The final whistle sounded soon after, allowing the Blues to move their thoughts to Tuesday night’s visit of Blackpool to Fratton Park.
Unfortunately it is the supporters who stick in my mind more than the match as, again, a significant minority were abusing the players even when they were ahead. I cannot understand people getting on the players’ backs unless a performance is shockingly bad or results have fallen to a level where it would be impossible for the club to achieve their goals, and never when the team is winning. Not only is this kind of flak undeserved, but I feel it hurts the team’s chances going forward. Needless abuse and booing builds unnecessary pressure on the players and makes it nigh on impossible for them to concentrate on their own performances as they are so preoccupied with ignoring their own fans. The perfect example of this is Michael Smith, whose confidence ended up suffering irreversibly from the stick he was receiving from his own supporters that he ended up leaving the club.
Today fans vented their frustrations by exaggerated sighs when Pompey gave the ball away (which, I must admit, I was part of) and booing substitutions they didn’t agree with (which I most certainly wasn’t a part of). Kal Naismith was subject to sarcastic applause when he was brought on in place of Gary Roberts, and several over-the-top sighs when he gave away the ball, and he made sure the supporters knew exactly how he felt about it. After he was dispossessed he reacted to fans’ frustrations with an outburst which went something like ‘shut your fucking gob!’ which only earned him more abuse from that section of the crowd. He then briefly pointed to the fans in question during his goal celebration, which had the outcome he desired. However, in my view, that is exactly what was needed. It is important for the players to stand up to the stick they are given if they feel it is undeserved, as just sitting back and taking it will lead to more ‘Michael Smith’ cases where their confidence ends up being shot. Many fans deserve some verbals to be given back to them after the way they have treated players over the last couple of seasons and I was pleased to see Naismith oblige.
Now is not time to be abusing the players; they still have a great chance of making the automatic promotion places. The Blues are just four points off Carlisle with a game in hand, and even play-offs would not be a disaster. Giving the players abuse will only decrease the chances of success so it is important for everyone to pull together and get behind the Blues. People have to accept that the inconsistencies of League Two mean that no team will play well every single week so there is no point in having such unrealistic expectations. Hopefully, starting from Tuesday, Pompey supporters can start to build their reputation back up to what it used to be: one of the best atmospheres in the country rather than a toxic one, and then the players will feel the freedom to put together a winning run to take Pompey into the promotion positions.