Sixer’s Portsmouth Soapbox: play offs Pompey, Pompey play offs – and us

Malcolm Dawson writes……whilst not mathematically denying us one of the two automatic promotion spots, yesterday’s result finally extinguished any realistic hope of avoiding the lottery that is the play-offs. At the start of the season I don’t suppose there are many supporters who would have said that only losing a total of three games out of 44, two by the odd goal and one after having a man sent off early doors, would be considered a failure but there are plenty of brickbats being thrown around in the wake of our 19th draw of the season. 

A draw was really of no use to either side (although Portsmouth might still get an automatic promotion spot if they can win their last two games and either Barnsley or Luton fail to get maximum points next Saturday) so I was surprised that Pompey weren’t more adventurous in their play and that they were prepared to indulge in a lot of the time wasting tactics that seem prevalent in this division and having succeeded in getting Glenn Loovens sent off at Fratton Park, seemed to be trying the same trick, this time with Aiden McGeady one of their prime targets.

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Some pundit or other was saying on the radio how successful Tottenham’s season has been so far and this is a side that has lost 12 times from 36 games. The ease with which social media allows instant reaction will no doubt be rife with those quick to point out how dreadful this result was towards the end of what to them has been a dreadful season. But those taking a more thoughtful and objective view will be of the opinion that our disappointment stems from hope and expectation. Some of us hoped we might go straight back up whilst others expected us to run away with the division. Games we might have expected to have won have seen us drop points and while our record might have seen us finishing in the top two most seasons, this year the form of Barnsley, Luton and Portsmouth have meant it hasn’t. That Spurs record shows 12 defeats but only 1 draw and dropping points at home to the likes of Shrewsbury, Wycombe, Accrington Stanley, Oxford and Fleetwood as well as a failure to hold on to leads at Wycombe, Oxford and Scunthorpe have ultimately cost us a top spot. 

What I haven’t been disappointed with this season, is the effort and commitment to the club that team have shown, even if they haven’t often been dominant in games and haven’t always been able to get all three points. Unlike some I can’t fault the attitude. But the big success for me, whether we go up or not is the efforts the club has gone to reconnect with the supporters and after years of being treated like a customer with my support less valued by the club than by my local supermarkets, I once again feel a part of the SAFC community. The parade of miners’ banners, one of which was from Eppleton where my dad worked most of his life and which dominated the view from my bedroom window when I was growing up, yet another example of how the ownership is trying to re-engage with fans and whilst there will be sound economic reasons for them doing so, I am pleased to see it.

Anyway, my introduction seems to be almost as long as Pete Sixsmith’s match report. He was less than complimentary about our opponents on the way home last night. Has he tempered his views after a night’s kip? Let’s find out.

PORTSMOUTH (HOME)

It may well be that we have seen the last of Portsmouth for a while. The point they took on Saturday and the subsequent home game with Peterborough should be enough to see them finish in third place and then face two winnable legs against a stuttering Doncaster Rovers or a Coventry City side that they defeated at Easter.

We are more likely that to be facing Charlton Athletic, a side who have been in and around the play offs for much of the season and who have timed their run perfectly. They have momentum and could conceivably finish above us if we fail to win one of our last two games, leading to a first leg at home and a second leg at The Valley on a Saturday evening. Of course, Barnsley could implode at Bristol Rovers next Saturday and we could wallop both Fleetwood and Southend United. Couple that with a win for Accrington Stanley in front of the flare throwing, all singing, all dancing Portsmouth hordes and we would be promoted automatically.

It ain’t gonna happen, folks. Too many draws have left us in the situation that all of us feared – the dreaded play offs.

For all that they add excitement to the end of the season (and without them our season would already be at an end) we have a dismal record in this type of football. Twice we have got through to the final game and have lost. Twice we have lost in the semi-finals and have suffered. The mood amongst the support is that there will be no improvement on this.

Must’ve been colder in the West Stand

Our strengths and weaknesses were there for all to see in this game.

The weather was bright and sunny, the stadium hosted another huge crowd (41,129), there was a crackling atmosphere with 3,500 housed in the Upper North Stand and we went at it from the start. Before some had taken their seats, Lewis Morgan hit the bar with an overhead kick and then seven minutes later was fouled by a complaining Nathan Thompson (of whom more later) and Max Power’s accurate free kick was headed home by the returning Tom Flanagan.

A second goal a la Donny Rovers would have been great but Portsmouth are a resilient bunch (other words will be used to describe them later, oh yes!!!) and they came back at us. In the 24th minute, we failed to clear a corner and the ball eventually fell to Jamal Lowe (more on him later as well, oh yes!!!) and he turned the ball into the net to equalise.

This was followed by a five minute delay as a Portsmouth supporter decided to celebrate by throwing a flare into the home crowd sitting below. Stupid, dangerous, potentially life threatening – but what one has come to expect from supporters who think that watching football is all about ringing bells, singing and clapping permanently and sneering at folk who have paid to watch a football match rather than join a love in. Along with Coventry City, they have been the most obnoxious bunch to visit Sunderland this season and their behaviour is reflected in the antics of their team – of which more later. Oh yes!!!

Northumbria Police have identified and arrested the idiot in the away end

After that, we had the better chances. The keeper pulled off a fine save from Charlie Wyke just before the break, saved well from Max Power towards the end and saw a Will Grigg poke hit the post and go out for a goal kick.

We dominated the second half as Portsmouth defended effectively. The centre half, Matt Clarke was outstanding – tall, craggy but surprisingly mobile, he looked everything you would expect from a player at this level in a team striving to get out of it.

His colleague, Christian Burgess, was a of a different ilk. Pony tailed and tanned, he could well have passed the audition for one of those North American wrestling channels as he pulled, tugged and grappled with Wyke at every opportunity.

And that showed up one of our major weaknesses. We are not a nasty side. Portsmouth are – or were on this showing. They came for a point as the bare minimum and made sure that they got it by a combination of heavy challenges, feigning injury and disputing every decision made by Craig Pawson, who was another example of a Premier League referee parachuted in to take a big game and to no great effect. Stick to the 10,000 at Bournemouth or the 17,000 at Watford Craig.

We also lack a little bit of cunning on the ball. Every player worked hard. The spirit and the commitment are a million times better than the last two seasons but the quality is not there when we need it. A midfield player who can control a game and use the ball is vital in the last few games. We desperately need Dylan McGeouch back to give us some calmness in that role. And we need a second forward to play either with or behind Wyke. He did well enough on his own and gave as much as he got from Burgess in particular. He was desperately unlucky not to score and he may well have had claims for a penalty although it is often difficult for a referee to see who is wrestling who in the box.

Lee Cattermole was disciplined and highly effective, Max Power looks a good player again and George Honeyman works his socks off but does not have the quality to run a midfield. The two centre halves with Flanagan replacing Dunne did well, although marking James Vaughan is the footballing equivalent of making jokes about Chris Grayling.

Alim Ozturk

Alim Ozturk has not put a foot wrong since his recall, and with hindsight (the greatest gift of all for the likes of me) he might have been a better bet earlier in the year. I don’t think that Sinclair would have brushed him aside at Oxford when he equalised at the end.

Aiden McGeady did all that he could to influence the game and Portsmouth knew that he was the key to Sunderland’s success. Enter Lowe and Thompson who had clearly been told to kick him and kick him often, particularly in the vicinity of his broken left foot.

This they did and when not kicking McGeady, they fell down at every tackle, feigned injury, dived in the box and thoroughly spoilt the positive impression that both had created at Wembley. Both are better than this, but both left the field branded as cheats by the majority of the crowd. Thompson incurred the wrath of Flanagan and it may well have been that which inspired the unpleasant spat after the final whistle. It wasn’t just those two. Brett Pittman (who should know better at his age) quibbled over every decision as did Tom Naylor who did his best to break the game up and drag Sunderland down to the level that he thought acceptable.

I was really disappointed and unhappy with their approach to the game. I rarely describe a side as “nasty” but that is a perfect description of Portsmouth on this showing. I’m sure that they can justify it by saying that they got a point from the game but I would not like to think that the team I watch would resort to the underhand tactics that Kenny Jackett and his coaching staff adopted for this game. Prior to this game, I had a lot of time for Jackett and know that he has achieved against the odds at Watford and Millwall. But not anymore.

Pompey fans of the non-flare throwing type will say that this is a classic example of sour grapes and they may well be right.

Our season has faded away with only one win out of the last five games while our rivals have been racking up the points. We go into the play offs on a bit of a downer and it will take a lot of work to get us through them successfully. Wins at Fleetwood and Southend may put us in better frame of mind but I have my doubts.

And I would not enjoy another Wembley clash with Portsmouth – team or support.

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16 thoughts on “Sixer’s Portsmouth Soapbox: play offs Pompey, Pompey play offs – and us”

  1. Shocked that this was a Premiership Ref??? – he was terrible.
    Pompey’s goal was out as it was crossed & should have been a goalkick, but the linesman deferred to this useless Ref.
    Pompey fans were great at Wembley and in the SAFC fanzone, but their team of cheats almost drove me back to my Neanderthal instincts as I headed to the North stands to have a word, sorry.
    Positives, look, isn’t it great that Mr Ross and Mr Donald are getting stick because we haven’t gained auto promotion? In August the same critics told me we were on the way to the National league and oblivion.
    Ross & Donald have raised, yes raised; this clubs expectations, wherever we end up.

  2. I’m with Pete on this. Pompey’s antics were poor,as was the ref. It’s not sour grapes at all. Burton deservedly took four points from us by playing to the spirit of the game. Commendations too for Barnsley and Gillingham. I know a ref’s job is difficult but as at Wycombe (totally despicable) they seem to collude with the bad sportsmanship being shown. The blokes thrown out of the West Stand were determined to cause trouble and were ‘larging it’ as they were being led out. I don’t condone violence but the Sunderland fan who reacted was apparently a friend of a friend who told me today that the Pompey lad spat in his face. There but for the grace….I’d taken a neighbour to the game with me as he is a Pompey fan and he admitted he was embarrassed by some of the behaviour. In further defence of Pete he regularly rails at the antics at times of some of our away support.

  3. Or if history rhymes….we lose in the playoffs but win the league with over 100 points next season…..a settled squad will work wonders. The other top teams have had the benefit of settled squads.

  4. A great read from Pete, and Malcolm.

    A disappointing finish to the season but, from where we were 12 months ago, it certainly isn’t all gloom and doom.

    • Shame you feel like that Peter. Also unfortunate that you feel the need for insults.
      I find it hilarious that you can take the moral high ground when you have Lee Cattermole in your midfield. Oh, and how many times has Max Power been sent off this season?
      Best of luck in the Playoffs.

      • The word banter and the phrase sense of humour breakdown spring to mind. Pete is the gentlest soul you could hope to meet, except maybe for Lee Cattermole

      • Ah it was meant to be humorous. My apologies.
        I’m sure Peter is a great guy. However the words pot and kettle spring to mind when anyone from Sunderland describes a place as a dump.
        Never-mind though, it’s all good banter!

  5. Well, no need to win any more games so we can all relax. Five 1 – 1 draws, two penner shoot out wins and we’re up. No more stress. Yippee!

  6. Excellent, brave and accurate report. I would far rather watch The Lads and accept temporary failure as we build towards success than watch the cynicism displayed by the likes of Portsmouth and Wycombe.

  7. Absolutely sour grapes unfortunately. Funny you also mention Coventry supporters negatively, another side who have taken points from you at home this season. Easy to be magnanimous when you’ve won the game I suppose.
    Also not condoning the fan who threw the flare. I hope he’s never allowed to step inside a football stadium again.
    Michael, Portsmouth fan

    • Coventry fans also threw flares and bottles onto home fans seated below. All clubs have idiot fans and the Pompey supporters I spoke to at Wembley and outside the ground yesterday were lovely people. But while parking the car and walking to the ground there were quite a few who’d obviously spent the whole trip up on the booze and were carrying plastic bags full of cans. Didn’t feel threatened by them but we all know the effect alcohol has on some people.

      Then again I also wonder how home fans in places like Wycombe, Rochdale and Accrington see us when we go there.

      • PS and although Peter is quite capable of standing up for himself, in his defence he has also been critical of Sunderland followers who make things unpleasant for others.

    • Wrong, Michael.
      Both sides supporters are the only ones who have caused problems at the ground all season. Most clubs have enjoyed their visit(s) and have reacted positively.
      Unfortunately, middle ranking clubs like Coventry and Portsmouth who either don’t have a ground or have one that is little better than a dump, seem to think it’s c;lever to throw flares around.
      On the field your players were an absolute disgrace – words like cheats, conmen and horrible can easily be attached to them.
      You will probably go up but you showed 37,500 people that as a club and a city you have absolutely nothing to be proud of.
      It would give me great satisfaction to beat you in the play-off final but I don’t think we are good enough at the dark arts that you practice so well.
      There, I can be as unpleasant as the awful football team that you support.
      Pass me the grapes.

  8. I am coming round to Malcolm’s way of thinking on social media. Not going up in an automatic promotion place doesn’t make me question being a Sunderland supporter. Seeing someone at Twitter get 1000+ ‘likes’ for applauding a lout who ‘chinned’ a Pompey fan in our end makes me despair at football in general.

    • I don’t use social media. I liked Malcolm’s thoughts about it so much, in his Coventry Soapbox, that I saved it.

      I use Facebook once every couple of years, and that’s my lot.

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