Pompey supporters experienced the all too familiar feeling of failing to back up a great result at the weekend with a win against weaker opposition. Morecambe are no mugs, having lost just one of their last ten league games going into the match, but the blues should be beating a bottom half team at home regardless of the form they are in.
Although the result was disappointing, it is difficult to find fault with Pompey’s performance with the exception of the finishing. The first half, in particular, saw Pompey dominate the match as they launched assault after assault on the Shrimpers’ goal, but their old nemesis, Barry Roche, was in fine form to keep the scores level. He saved efforts from Carl Baker, Eoin Doyle, Gareth Evans and Gary Roberts before half-time, and although he didn’t score this time, he had just as much of an impact on the match as when he scored a late equaliser at the Globe last season. The lack of clinicity in the box will have come as a disappointment and a surprise to Paul Cook considering he has been reunited with Eoin Doyle, who has a prolific record, but has so far been able to register just one goal in six games at his new club. I am by no means questioning Doyle’s ability, but it is disappointing that poor finishing still plagues the team after a top level striker has been signed.
The goal Pompey conceded would not have seemed out of place last season, as they were hit on the counter attack in the final ten minutes of a game they had been well on top of, and the goal came from a lapse in communication between the two centre-backs. Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess have been rock solid so far this season, but they both challenged for the same long ball on Tuesday night and Burgess’ header went up rather than away, leading to Lee Molyneaux being released on the right to slam home into the far corner of David Forde’s goal. The centre-halves have been the standout performers this season, but there are always going to be mistakes at this level. The disappointing thing is that the mistake would not have mattered if Pompey had taken their chances at the other end but, as Paul Cook likes to remind us, that’s football.
It is difficult to take positives from results such as this, but there were certainly a couple of encouraging signs. Gary Roberts seemed to be back to his best, and was unlucky not to score late on, as well as coming close to creating a goal with a lovely cross with the outside of his left foot. The other good sign was that David Forde really stepped up to the mark during the match. He had a rocky start to the game when he dropped a cross which resulted in Christian Burgess having to head the ball off the line magnificently, but he was given the benefit of the doubt by the referee and was given a free kick. However, he then went on to have a great match, commanding his area and making an outstanding one-on-one save towards the end of the first half to keep the scores level. Forde is a player who has taken some criticism from some sections of the crowd and does not always perform to the same level as the rest of the team, so it was very encouraging to see him play at his very best and add a great deal to the team on Tuesday. The other positive piece of news was that Kal Naismith once again came off the bench to score for the Blues. Pompey have had the most goals scored by substitutes in the Football League this season, with eleven goals, so it is very useful to have strength in depth to come off the bench.
Although, on the face of it, the result does not look that great for Pompey, they have moved one step closer to their ultimate goal of promotion. Carlisle were unable to get anything out of their match away at Cheltenham, meaning Pompey have closed the gap to the automatic promotion places to just two points and still have a game in hand over the Cumbrians. It is possible to look at Tuesday’s results as a missed opportunity, as the Blues would now have been in third place in League Two on goal difference if they had held onto the win, but I prefer to look at it as a point gained. There is every chance that the promotion race will go all the way down to the wire and that it will be decided on the last day of the season when Pompey play Cheltenham and Carlisle play Exeter. Therefore, every point that either side picks up between now and the end of the season will prove absolutely vital.
We may just look back at the end of the season and find that the point on Tuesday night was the difference between success and failure, so now is not the time to get on the players’ backs, but instead to rise up and push the team forwards to give them the best chance of gaining promotion.