After the Blues’ great performance against Grimsby last night, they have a six point cushion over Carlisle in fourth place. Meanwhile, Plymouth failed to win again last night, meaning they are just four points ahead of Pompey in second place. This means that, with nine games to go, Pompey have promotion in their own hands and are able to look ahead at catching Plymouth Argyle and Doncaster rather than looking over their shoulders.
As far as last night’s game was concerned, there is almost nothing negative to say about anything. Both on the pitch and in the stands, Pompey did themselves proud and were great value for the three points. If you were to be very picky, you could say that the Blues were slow out of the blocks and that the Mariners were denied twice in the opening minutes; once by a good save by David Forde and once by the woodwork. However, that argument can be broken down easily, as Pompey opened the scoring one twelve minutes, so can’t have started that poorly! After the early scares, Grimsby were never in with a shout of creating anything, and a couple of second half corners were as close as they got to testing David Forde. It was very encouraging to see how focused the back five were, as they did not allow Grimsby to create any real chances despite being inactive for much of the game. So often this season we have seen opponents score after long periods of Pompey pressure, but the Blues managed to remain strong to a man. Throughout the whole 90 minutes I can only remember the centre-halves making one mistake, as Matt Clarke misjudged a header which led to the visitors striking the post. However, another win and another clean sheet is just what the Blues need at this stage.
Since the demoralising defeat at home to Crewe two Saturdays ago, the Blues have put together three consecutive wins, scoring ten goals and conceding none. The team has lined up in all three games, and over that period there have been six different goalscorers, which is most encouraging. Danny Rose has now scored in consecutive matches, while Kyle Bennett has now scored in three matches in a row after going on a lengthy spell without a goal. The sudden scoring spree, particularly coming from Pompey’s midfield, has quietened supporters who have been complaining about Eoin Doyle’s performances up front. While he has only scored twice since joining on deadline day, I do not think it is a coincidence by any means that goals have been easier to come by since his arrival. The Irishman is a willing runner and stretches the defence, allowing more space for the attacking midfielders to get into scoring positions, explaining why nine of the ten goals from the past three games have been scored from midfield.
Another encouraging sign is the good luck Pompey seem to have got of late. While luck tends to balance itself out over the course of the season, it is good to see that the Blues are making the most of their good fortune when it comes, and have reaped the rewards of three deflected goals in the last three matches. Both Kyle Bennett and Danny Rose’s goals last night took big deflections which helped them past McKeown in the Grimsby net, with Bennett also seeing a deflected effort go in against Crawley. There will almost certainly be occasions between now and the end of the season when Pompey find themselves on the end of some bad luck, so it is important that they are able to make the most of it when it comes their way, while trying to ensure that they can still get results when luck doesn’t go their way. The Blues’ penalty record recently is one such example, as they have now missed all of their last five spot-kicks but, remarkably, have gone on to win every game in which they have missed. That means they have ensured that they have not missed out on a single point when luck is not on their side. It is arguable that making the most of good luck and adapting when luck goes against them is a key characteristic of a promotion winning side, so long may it continue!
The only concerns that came from last night’s match for Pompey were over injuries. Kyle Bennett and Kal Naismith both had to be withdrawn with knocks, as Bennett rolled his ankle towards the end of the first half and Naismith limped off with about twenty minutes to go holding his hamstring. Both have been key performers of late and Paul Cook will be desperate to have them both back in time for Saturday’s trip to fellow promotion chasers, Stevenage. However, he will be well aware of the risks of starting half-fit players after what happened when Amine Linganzi was risked after a minor injury which caused him to limp off just after half-time against Crewe. While it would be ideal to give both Bennett and Naismith a chance to continue their good form, with replacements such as Gary Roberts and Jamal Lowe ready to take their place in the side it might be best for the Pompey boss to err on the side of caution with the two midfielders on Saturday, as exacerbating any injuries could lead to the player being out for the remainder of the promotion run-in.
It is rare that I can write about a Pompey match and come to the end of my article with nothing negative to say about the performance. It was good to see the crowd getting right behind the players as the blues were rampant against a Mariners side which looked very out-of-sorts. If Pompey can replicate that performance nine times between now and the end of the season then promotion will be in the bag, and they may even have a shot at catching Plymouth and Doncaster. However, with Pompey it’s never that easy and we will go into Saturday’s match with Stevenage with the same old nerves of not knowing what sort of Pompey side will show up. For now, however, Pompey supporters can really believe that promotion to League One is possible and dream that their side could finally have escaped League Two by September of this year.