Pompey did what was necessary yesterday when they defeated Yeovil at Fratton Park to tick off another fixture as we approach the end of the season. Paul Cook is quick to impress upon us that results are all that matter at this stage of the season, and that proved very true as Pompey’s victory, coupled with Stevenage’s 4-0 defeat against Colchester, means that the Blues now have an eight point cushion over Stevenage. With just five games remaining in League Two this season, automatic promotion is very much in their hands and they can even afford a couple of slip-ups between now and the 6th May.
Paul Cook made two changes to his starting eleven for the match against the Glovers, as Noel Hunt dropped out with a dislocated shoulder, allowing Gary Roberts to return to the side, while Jamal Lowe was replaced by Carl Baker. This saw Kal Naismith lead the line for the Blues in an interesting call which saw him preferred to Conor Chaplin. This saw him continue in the role he played in the second half against Hartlepool, supported by Gary Roberts from advanced midfield. Yeovil also made three changes to their starting eleven which saw Tom Eaves playing off Fançois Zoko, while Pompey fan Matt Butcher also kept his place in midfield.
The Blues had a scare early on when Kevin Dawson swung in a great cross from the right hand side which was headed narrowly over the bar by Tom Eaves. The cross was almost perfect and David Forde was in two minds over whether to come out to catch it or not, and Eaves seized on his hesitation by looping a header over him, but fortunately for Pompey the ball came to rest on the roof of the net. The early let-off seemed to shake Pompey into action, and they came within a whisker of opening the scoring when a towering Matt Clarke header from a corner had to be cleared off the goal line by a diving header from Liam Sheppard. However, Pompey did score the first goal of the game after fifteen minutes when great persistence from Gary Roberts allowed him to win a penalty. The veteran midfielder nipped in front of Bevis Mugabi before being brought down, and Gareth Evans stepped up to score the spot-kick. Pompey fans were nervous as the right-back put the ball on the spot as the Blues had missed their previous six penalties going into the game, but Evans made no mistake and stroked the ball into the right corner, sending Artur Krysiak the wrong way.
Pompey could easily have gone several goals ahead in quick succession as Kal Naismith had a shot well saved by Krysiak, before Gary Roberts almost scored a fluke goal when his deflected cross looped over the Yeovil keeper and came back off the inside of the post before being headed clear. However, after half an hour Pompey could have been pegged back when a Matty Dolan corner was put wide by Bevis Mugabi at the near post with a free header. During the first half Pompey’s front four rotated, leaving Naismith up front when the Blues were playing a more direct style, while Roberts remained forward when Pompey looked to play out from the back. Roberts almost found himself on the end of a scoring opportunity on the brink of half-time as he chased a long ball over the top of the defence but Krysiak was able to run out of his goal and clear the ball away. The half finished with Pompey 1-0 in front but they will have been both disappointed and relieved that they had the lead, having missed several chances and Yeovil having missed a couple of golden opportunities.
Yeovil made one change at half-time as Tom Eaves was replaced by John-Louis Akpa Akpro after a very physical battle with Christian Burgess which lasted the entire first half. The Blues were quickly out of the blocks and came very close to doubling their lead when Roberts did well to pick up the ball on the left wing before crossing for Naismith in the penalty area, who saw his header stopped by a superb reaction save from Krysiak. However, the Glovers went straight up the other end and scored to equalise with a freak goal. It was not entirely clear exactly how the ball found its way in but it appeared that Enda Stevens’ attempted clearance came off Matt Clarke when the pair were challenging François Zoko, sending the ball looping over David Forde and into the net. The Blues then stepped up their efforts in attack, creating three presentable chances in the space of a couple of minutes. First, a Naismith flick on allowed Roberts to run through on goal, but the ex-Chesterfield man clearly lacked the pace needed to go all the way so took a shot early, attempting to lob Krysiak but succeeding only in scooping the ball into the keeper’s arms. A similar move then saw Naismith bearing down on goal but the March PFA Player of the Month scuffed his shot straight to Krysiak. Kyle Bennett then received the ball 40 yards from goal from the keeper’s resulting kick and, with Krysiak out of position, attempted to score but could only send the ball out for a goal kick.
Frustration was mounting in the Fratton faithful and murmurs of discontent at the wasteful nature of the attacking players could be heard, as it looked as if Pompey weren’t going to take advantage of both Stevenage and Plymouth losing. Town then made their second change of the game after an hour when Bevis Mugabi was replaced by Nathan Smith, before Conor Chaplin replaced Gary Roberts for Pompey soon afterwards. Kyle Bennett continued his good form throughout the match and did brilliantly to combine with Enda Stevens just before the 70 minute mark to release the left-back down the left, allowing Stevens to get to the by-line and pull the ball back for Kal Naismith to fire home to score his fourth goal in four matches at the near post. Krysiak will have been very disappointed that he couldn’t keep out the effort as he got to the ball but was only able to push it into the side of the net. Yeovil then made their final substitution as Otis Khan replaced Brandon Goodship as the Glovers worked to try and find a way back into the match. The Pakistan international came very close to equalising minutes later, as he curled an effort from the edge of the penalty area which just clipped the roof of the net as it went over the David Forde’s bar, with the Pompey keeper livid that he had been allowed the space to shoot. However, the game was ended as a contest on 78 minutes when Jamal Lowe – who had come on for Carl Baker seconds earlier – got a bit of luck as the ball rebounded to him in the penalty area before firing past Krysiak at the near post from the tightest of angles to make it 3-1 to the hosts. Krysiak will have been livid at himself, as he really should have been able to deal with both the second and third goals, earning his side a point. There was no further action besides Nicke Kabamba being brought on in place of man of the match Kal Naismith, and full-time whistle blew after Chaplin and Kabamba kept the ball near the corner flag for the final seconds.
Although Plymouth ended up producing a comeback and securing a win with the last kick of the game, Pompey’s victory extends the gap between themselves and fourth place to eight points, while Argyle remain four points above the Blues in second. Pompey and Plymouth play each other in the next match at Fratton Park on Good Friday, and it is possible for Argyle to guarantee automatic promotion if they win and other results go their way. Pompey will hope both to delay Plymouth’s promotion party and to narrow the gap between the clubs to just a single point after Friday. Meanwhile, Doncaster Rovers secured automatic promotion when they beat Mansfield so they have now booked their place in League One for next season – and hopefully Pompey will join them! The end is in sight for the Blues and they can see the light at the end of the tunnel so, barring any major capitulations, Pompey should guarantee promotion in the coming matches.