A Tale Of Two Halves

Jake Smith reviews Portsmouth v Morecambe – 22nd August 2015 at Fratton Park. 

The first half of this match was rather peculiar, the game started and the first ten minutes looked as though Pompey would spend the entire 90 minutes in the driving seat, we dominated possession (as per usual), played the ball nicely and looked very threatening as we approached the Morecambe goal. However, it was easy to see that this Pompey team was not the same as the ones that had played against Dagenham, Plymouth and Crawley.

Not sure how many people will agree with me on this one, but I noticed that in the 3-3 draw with Morecambe, most notably in the first half, there was a fair share of mistakes made in the defensive and midfield areas of the pitch.

For example, I noticed that a fair amount of balls from Kyle Bennett went astray and that some of the touches from the back four were diabolical. It wasn’t just the back four, it was every player on the pitch that I felt had a few dodgy passes/touches. Furthermore, I saw that when the blues pushed forward to attack, the two full-backs, Stevens and Davies, would join the attacks and leave big gaps in the defence.

In all fairness to Morecambe, they were quick and very sharp and used their counter-attacking techniques very well, as we saw, going 3-0 down after less than 40 minutes. This gave the 69 away fans something to cheer about!

After the first Morecambe goal found itself buried in the back of the net, leaving Murphy motionless, the class of the Pompey fans was shown as not one single fan in that stadium stopped singing, in fact “Paul Cook’s Blue Army” echoed around the stadium louder than it had before in the match, showing that we all had faith in the manager in the team.

Maybe I’m looking at more negatives on the pitch than I should be, but I just felt that during the first half, the team was sluggish and they payed the ultimate price for it.

^ The 69 away fans – My own picture

The second half however was a different story, completely showing that football can change in a matter of minutes and that the “tale of two halves” is something that is ever present in most matches. We started the second 45 as we did the first, and things were looking promising for the home side.

The difference between the two halves was that we were looking much the sharper side, less sloppy and much more threatening than the first half, we made up for the poor display in the first 40 minutes. We started the second half 3-1 down, after a fantastic free-kick from the maestro Gary Roberts, and we came out fighting and looked like we would take the game to them at every kick that we had.

I was impressed by the character, desire and work effort that the team put into their performance, as I had been in all of their previous games. I’m loving the way we play under Paul Cook, as well as all of the off-field improvements too.

We hear his interviews and he talks about the way he trains his Pompey squad, the time, effort and ideas that Cookie puts into the team is superb, definitely what a successful team needs. No disrespect to our previous managers because they all had their own ideas, they just didn’t work, but it’s clear to see the difference in class between Cook and his predecessors (Awford, Barker and Whittingham).

The way that the game was changed after the half-time break was something that we never saw when our last three managers were in charge, and it’s (in my opinion) mainly down to the experience that Cook brings from his time at Chesterfield.

Because of this, we were able to change the game and catch Morecambe off guard, I think that the Shrimps were a little too comfortable with their lead and we’re getting a bit carried away. The second Pompey goal was something that only a man of Roberts’ skill, ability and experience could execute with the absolute perfection that he did.

It came to the 75th minute and the score was 2-3, but we had found ourselves with only 10 men after Enda Stevens was sent off after a second bookable offence. I don’t think that anyone in the stadium could disagree with the referee’s decision to send our left back marching off into the dressing room.

Despite going down to 10 men, faith was ringing around the stadium, loud and proud Pompey fans were urging the team forward and believed, as always, that we could pull off something quite magnificent. Despite this, I feel that we all knew that, in typical Pompey fashion, we would end the game with a 3-2 loss after hitting the bar, having a goal disallowed or more decisions going against us in the dying seconds of the match.

However, our fortune was much different, we pressed and pressed and pressed and finally, after 94 very long minutes, Morecambe finally caved in, and Jayden Stockley performed a beautiful diving header at the back post after a great cross from Adam Webster.

^ The full time stats  (BBC Sport)

The words on the lips of the fans after the final whistle and as they departed the stadium were “wow” and “unbelievable”, many also were just left speechless. As well as this, many were exclaiming their delight at the fact that we had finally found a talisman in attack who could put away the deep balls, putting his body on the line for our great football club whilst doing so.

Player ratings:

Brian Murphy: Could have played better in the first half I feel, and the fans made that clear by cheering him every time he made a simple catch – 6

Enda Stevens: Let his anger get the better of him and perhaps is kicking himself after getting his second yellow card, I also felt that he could have tracked back a bit faster as we conceded the 3 goals – 5

Christian Burgess: A few sloppy mistakes to start off with, but nonetheless was a key figure in defence as was vital in ensuring that we kept Morecambe to their 3 goals – 7

Matt Clarke: The same report as Burgess if I’m honest, a couple of moments where he switched off but came back a much better player after what I can only imagine was a passionate rant from the manager at half time – 7

Ben Davies: It was surprising to see the former Sheffield United player play the match, let alone be included in the starting XI! You could, at times, tell that he had picked up a knock a few days before, however luckily for us he had enough fitness for the game and put in a decent shift considering! – 6

Nigel Atangana: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it all season long, the big man in midfield has become an entirely new player over the past few months, compared to when he started life as a Pompey player. Yesterday wasn’t his best performance, but nonetheless he always tried (and mostly succeeded) to try and get the ball back when he lost it, recovering from his own mistakes – 6

Michael Doyle: The leader of the pitch continued his role-model-like performances with a fairly decent shift against the Shrimps, he never fails to disappoint me and I feel that he was one of the most committed and therefore best player on the pitch, despite the odd mistake (which was present amongst all players) – 7

Kyle Bennett: It was a lacklustre performance for the young talent who had graced the pitches of League Two in the opening 3 league games, proving that the best of players do have their off days. This does not however defend the decision making of Bennett when he passed the ball or took on a shot and the poor performance which followed – 5

Gareth Evans: If I’m honest, I don’t remember seeing much of Evans on the ball on Saturday, which is frustrating because I thought he would play a more influential role in the game – 5

Gary Roberts: Experience, talent and such desire to strive forward, put his all into a game and get the best result possible ensured that Roberts had a decent game, as per usual, against last seasons early leaders. Not to mention the breathtaking free-kick and inch perfect accuracy on the shot for his second goal – 7


Two relieved Pompey players (Stockley and Roberts) celebrate the immense equaliser late on in the game, a feeling which Stockley described to the media after the game as “One I will never forget”. (Pompey Press)

Matt Tubbs: Being a big fan of Tubbsy since before he joined Pompey in January, it’s so frustrating to see that he’s not fitting into the squad as well as we/I had initially hoped! I really do hope that he can pick up the pace and try and fit into Paul Cook’s style of play, which I understand is not an easy task for a player of Tubbs’ ability and technique – 5


Jayden Stockley: After his goal scoring heroics, I think it’s only fair to give the Bournemouth loanee all of the credit that he deserves, not only for Saturday’s performance but his performances in previous games too – 8 (not my Man of the Match as he only played a small period of the game)

^ Jayden Stockley heading the ball home to make the score 3-3 in the 95th minute! (Pompey Press)

Adam McGurk: I originally thought that McGurk was bought on to bring a bit of pace to the side as we intended to push forward to try and force an equaliser, however I was wrong and it seemed as though he was bought on to slow the game down a little bit but this was good as we were able to play Morecambe around a bit, tire them out and pass them with a slight bit of ease. A useful for substitution in reflection – 7

Adam Webster: Like Nigel Atangana, I feel as though Adam Webster has come back this season as an entirely new player, despite not being popular amongst the fans in the right-back position he has been favoured to play in the more central areas of defence and has won over many supporters because of that, not to mention the impressive delivery to set up Stockley for the equaliser against Morecambe – 7

Many thanks to all readers yet again! I wrote this article after receiving positive feedback from my first article, which analysed the away game against Crawley on the 18th August. The link can be found right here if you have not read that or would like to read it again – http://wp.me/s5rsLI-patience

A small thank you to a good friend of mine Matthew Clements (Twitter user @mattclementspfc) who pointed out a mistake in my previous article. I had mentioned how Pompey had not scored a goal in the first half as of yet this season (before the Morecambe game) however I was wrong and he pointed out that we had scored in the first half away to Plymouth via a Matt Tubbs penalty! Cheers Matt!

I will be back with another article after the Capital One Cup tie with Reading at Fratton Park on Tuesday 25th August. I hope that you will take some time to read that too!

If you would like to send me some feedback and tell me how I did today, or even just fancy following me and reading my tweets about Pompey on a daily basis, do not hesitate to give me a follow on Twitter at @JakePompeySmith!