Malcolm Dawson writes……..In a week in which a young bride excitedly looking forward to her honeymoon, wakes to find she is a widow and a family man is stabbed to death with a screwdriver in a busy shopping centre, apparently trying to stop an altercation, I find it difficult to put any real significance on the result of a football match.
But I was there yesterday in my usual seat and found the experience somewhat more satisfying than that of a fortnight ago. It was no surprise to find us one nil down in the first half – when are we not? But up until that point we had looked more lively than we had in the opening minutes of either of the two previous league outings.
I won’t harp on about lax refereeing as the defence really should have dealt with the move that resulted in the Portsmouth opener, and which came from an error in midfield, but Maguire and McNulty were constantly being manhandled by the Pompey defence and a free kick should have been awarded to us, immediately prior to their goal. I’d like to see where in the Laws of the Game it says it is permissible to grab a player around the neck with one arm, whilst simultaneously pushing him over with the other but referee Michael Salisbury seemed to find that sort of thing allowable. That said Alim Ozturk quickly realised this and used a similar tactic when he could. Doesn’t make it right though.
But it didn’t take long for us to get back on terms, Leadbitter showing why he is such a threat in dead ball situations, then McGeady and Maguire combining nicely for the winner and I went home reasonably satisfied.
I’m no fan of these early kick off times, even though now it is a lot easier for me to get to a 12.30 home game since moving back to the North East than it was when a trip to the Stadium of Light was a three hour journey on a good day. So it was at a relatively civilised time I left home with time for a latte and a bacon sarnie in the Roker End cafe. Pity the 800 or so Portsmouth fans who had travelled up for this one, though the two I spoke to were students at the Uni and had an even shorter trip to the game than I had.
As Mickey Gray and his co-commentator faffed about on the touchline there was relative satisfaction around and about at the team that was announced, with only a couple of changes from the side that started at Accrington in midweek. McLaughlin J back between the sticks was no surprise and with McGeady replacing Grigg it looked as if Ross had decided to stick with a back four, two holding midfielders, two wide men in Gooch and Geads with Maguire just behind McNulty to form a two man mobile strike force.
We set down a marker straight from the kick off as a long ball, directly into the path of McNulty looked momentarily threatening, but it was too strong and was easily collected by MaGillvary, whose bright green kit contrasted sharply with the insipid grey effort that the outfield ten were wearing. We were quick out of the traps and the M people up front were lively, in sharp contrast to the slow start we made against Oxford. For Portsmouth Curtis found some space in the box and outjumped O’Nien, back in at right back, but his header sailed high over the bar without threatening McLaughlin’s goal.
With 24 minutes on the clock, McLaughlin sent a high ball up towards McNulty who was on the end of a two handed push from Burgess, the Pompey number 6 but with those of us who had a clear view of the foul screaming for a free kick, the ref waved play on. Not a lot of danger in midfield apparently, but when Power tried to get a foot in, he just succeeded in playing in Marcus Harness who burst forward into the box. We had chances to clear it but a couple of unintended deflections later it broke back to Harness who drove the ball, through Power’s outstretched legs, across goal and into the bottom corner.
We are so used to going a goal behind at home now, that it is no longer a cause for concern, at least where I sit, when it happens early in the game. Frustration only kicks in later if it doesn’t look like we are going to get back on terms or push on for the three points. And it didn’t take us long. Immediately following the goal, McGeady and McLaughlin C linked up when the latter’s shot was deflected behind for a corner. Then two minutes later after a bit of pressure from McGeady who had popped up on the right wing, Burgess ran the ball out for another corner, taken by Leadbitter. The new skipper brings us a quality set piece delivery and his pinpoint kick was well met by the run of
Jordan Willis who got there ahead of the surrounding defenders and powered home his header.
Game on. Ten minutes later a hopeful high punt forward from Alim Asturk was controlled by McNulty, who somehow found McGeady. An attempted clearance ricocheted off Geads’ shin and he was away. A delightful pull back across the face of goal found Maguire who slid the ball into the empty net and we were in front. Now the big question was would we hold onto that lead.
Half time came and went and not long into the second period, the ever lively McNulty chased after a long ball and pulled up holding his hamstring. He went off to be replaced by Charlie Wyke, whose greater physical presence brings a different dimension to our attacking play and after he came on we won more clearances and his hold up play was good. Let’s hope McNulty’s injury is not too severe though.
Apparently we tried to sign John Marquis in January, and he had a great opportunity to put McLaughlin under pressure when he latched onto a ball on the right of the penalty area but his shot was way off target. The next best chance that Pompey had came from a powerful diving header, from Grant Leadbitter of all people. Fortunately the diving orange flash that was Jon McLaughlin pulled off a fantastic save.
We had other chances. Wyke just failed to get his outstretched toe on the ball to flick it home. O’Nien and Maguire had penalty shouts waved away, whilst at the other end Ozturk got a foot on a decent effort from Harness after a piece of free flowing build up play but this was a good three points.
I can’t say we dominated the game but we certainly showed more positivity than we had against Oxford and in that first half at Ipswich. We still look vulnerable at times but this is League 1. The pairing of Willis and Ozturk looked solid enough for this level, though by no means error free. Leadbitter and Power in front gives us strength through the middle and Maguire and McNulty showed good movement and moved the opposition about. Gooch had a decent game and O’Nien does a decent enough job at full back.
We are still a work in progress but we have a squad with enough players who are good enough to get us out of this division. The effort is there, the commitment is there. Now it is a question of finding the right combinations of players, implementing the right strategies and finding ways to change things around when they are not going to plan.
This was no classic but in case you have forgotten, we are unbeaten this season. My worry now is that with Rochdale on Tuesday and Wimbledon next Saturday, we will be expecting to be on 11 points by this time next week and if past experience is anything to go by this is a sure fire recipe for disappointment.
Prove me wrong boys.
Ha’way the Lads.