According to Steve Cotterill, Pompey were the better team and played us off the pitch as they did at Fratton Park (again his words). They ‘out-bullied us’ would be a better way of putting it as their game plan seemed to just use their physicality to stop us playing and IF the ball should manage to enter our half, and ONLY then, they would try and play football.
The fact that we seemed to copy their ancient style of hoofball in the first half, made the first 45 minutes totally unwatchable. Add to the fact that the referee seemed to be very lenient with EVERY Pompey challenge all game, seemed to wind up both the home crowd and our players. In fact, following Connolly’s yellow card on 30 minutes for a challenge on Lawrence, the referee actually galvanised the home crowd and woke them from their slumber.
This was following two earlier equally bad if not worse fouls, firstly on Routledge then inevitably on Taarabt which didn’t even merit a talking to from the totally out of his depth referee, a Mr Hegley. The fact that Kitson and Lawrence were demanding that Connolly should in fact have been red carded just added to the fans venom towards them. Derry took no nonsense from Lawrence either during a game of handbags. From the resultant free kick, Halford hit a screamer of a free kick which went straight as an arrow and Kenny tipped it around the post for a corner.
Paddy Kenny was to make his second save in the last seconds, an hour after his first save. But don’t forget, Pompey played us off the pitch. The first half was just a massive scramble in the midfield as every time we got the ball to feet, Pompey were all over us like a rash and crowding out the likes of Taarabt, Faurlin, Ephraim and in particular Routledge. As a result, we turned to hoofing the ball to Miller who was out-muscled by the two centre backs every time. Faurlin seemed to be the only player capable of getting the ball down, beat his opponent at times and lay off a pass to a team mate. He was also the only player to have a decent effort in the first half when right on time almost, he hit a decent curling shot, but it was too close to the keeper. Our only other effort of note first half was a 20 yarder from Hill which cleared the bar, but didn’t have the keeper worried.
Jamie Ashdown came out very early for the second half with the goalkeeping coach and proceeded to do some practice in the goal whereby they just kicked the ball to each other. Saving shots obviously wasn’t in the plan seeing as he was almost redundant first half. He may live to regret that ! Second half we started to play the ball to feet at last and following a mazy run by Taarabt which found him reaching the bye-line and squaring to Miller some 10 yards from goal. For once Miller managed to hold the ball up, turn and create some space, but his right foot shot was hurried and went tamely wide.
This ball to feet malarkey was catching as Pompey created a half-chance when Hogg found himself in the box following a decent pass by Nugent, but he somehow put the shot about 10 yards wide when it looked easier to hit the target. A couple of minutes later Pompey were at it again, playing it on the floor that is, when Kitson dummied Lawrence’s cross into the path of Hogg who again failed to score when it seemed easier to do so.
A couple of minutes later, Pompey were made to pay when Adel Taarabt scored his 14th goal of the season. Picking the ball up 25 yards out, he ignored Ephraim to his right who was actually in a better position, and hit a lack lustre (by his standards) shot which appeared to be a comfortable shot for the keeper to save. Somehow the ball went straight through the keeper’s fingers and into the net to howls of laughter all round and huge sighs of relief as well. Although we probably didn’t deserve to be in front at this point, we had actually started to play football at last with Taarabt spraying some lovely balls about and Ephraim and Routledge seeing a lot more of the ball. The goal then seemed to lift us a little as we then started to dominate for a short period and the ball seemed to be in Pompey’s half more than at any other time of the match.
It was during this period that we got the winner when Hill rose the highest at the far post to meet Taarabt’s perfect corner with a thumping header which hit the back of the net for his first goal this season. We certainly deserved the second goal at this stage. Portsmouth then tried to hit back, but Nugent shot hopelessly wide when clean through at an angle and they were now trying to throw the kitchen sink at us, but to no avail. We then had a claim for a penalty when Routledge burst into the box but De Laet thought the match had ended so he tried to get Routledge’s shirt off his back, but the imcompetent Mr Hegley couldn’t see it even though he was 6 yards away and looking directly at the incident. He even had the audacity to wave play on which tells me that he knew something had happened, he just guessed wrongly.
Warnock brought on Hall for Routledge to help out at the back for the last 10 minutes and he won some very important headers. On 86 minutes following some good work by Faurlin and Hulse, the ball fell to Ephraim 20 yards out, but as he went to shoot, it bounced up high and he could only hit it a foot over the bar. As I mentioned earlier, with literally seconds to go, following a scramble at Kenny’s near post, the ball sat up for Ciftci to head goalwards from 4 yards, but Kenny kept his goal intact for the 15th time this season and our 15th win of the season.
Warnock’s half time talk obviously worked as we added finesse to our fitness which is why we are where we are and Pompey, who only rely on fitness, are where they are. With any luck come August we’ll be playing in a different league and so will Pompey. The difference is that they’ll be playing in the same one as their beloved neighbours down the M27.
Team: Kenny 7, Orr 6, Hill 7, Gorkss 7, Connolly 7, Ephraim 6, Taarabt 7 (Vaagan Moen 90 mins), Derry 8, Faurlin 8, Routledge 6 (Hall 6), Miller 5 (Hulse 6).
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Chimbonda, Shittu, Rowlands.
MOTM: Faurlin – He didn’t put a foot wrong all match.
Referee: Mr Hegley 6.