Adam Tungatt on the away day to Stevenage as Pompey secured their seventh away win of the season.
With myself based in the Watford area these days, after relocating for a job, it was not such an early start for this one as it has been in the past for the long days at Doncaster and Bristol. I set about my day, with getting my Pompey shirt out the wardrobe first on the agenda; it was time to grace the 1 hour 10 min journey and hope to return 3 points better off.
The weather, extremely cold and wintery, the feeling of the day could be sour without the performance from our boys in blue. But off I went with gloves and woolly hat to join me. I find it hard to get to as many games as in the past after relocating but the away games work out easier than the home, with a lot being based around London region. My last trip a cold dull Tuesday night in Barnet, was this to be the same sorry story?
With this still fresh in the memory, I kept thinking of all the possible outcomes Stevenage could bring, knowing we were on the back of the 2-1 win over Cambridge. Stevenage themselves are having a bad season, sacking one of our former favourites in Teddy Sheringham, they need the 3 points as much as we do, albeit for a very different reason. But a part of me was always slightly confident that this trip would be successful.
After 2 trains and 1 tube line, I found myself arriving in what was a very quiet and ordinary station. There was no bustle and hustle of many fans around as yet, with it being midday this was slightly confusing. I would say it was just your average town, nothing special, nothing unusual; the only difference being after leaving the station, on my walk to Wetherspoon’s, what I assumed was a wall of famous people from Stevenage. This was actually quite interesting and many towns could take advantage of this idea.
To the pub I went and met my friends who had made the journey up by car, all 5 of them already on the beers. The Standard Bearer Wetherspoon’s, was the choice of location and a cider the ammo to get us up for the day. Pompey fans present, albeit only 30, the atmosphere was creating and the day finally beginning. Good service and good prices, we spent the remaining hours, drinking and eating until it was time to set off to the ground, a short taxi journey away. Walkable if you aren’t lazy like we were.
Discussions were high on the short trip based around Cooks team selection and the idea of Chaplin on the bench again, drew various disapprovals, albeit we remained confident and we were to be rewarded. Apart from a very rude steward in the car park, this was to remain one of the better matches of the season, mainly for the result, we remained confident.
After getting into the stadium with no bother, we found ourselves in Row A, stood with a stream of fans still making their way in, the most narrow of entrances with only one way in and out of the away end, this became a humorous 15 minutes by entertaining ourselves greeting everyone to get the mood hyped up ready for the game. The ground was another basic disappointing set up, with nothing more than a few thousand fans and a tiny refreshment counter.
Pompey kicked towards us first half, usually a self inflicted bad omen at home, this was not to be the case today. The game was a little flat at first, Roberts was working hard and I felt we had the game in our hands. The atmosphere was lacking what has been a constant 12th man all season, maybe it was the pressure seeping through. But the goal came through some good play between Roberts and McNulty, the latter slotting home a very relieved first, celebrating in the fans and being rewarded with a booking. The game itself up to this point had been for the taking, Stevenage found themselves 5 corners better off but could not do anything with it and your felt the 22 minute goal gave us the footing we needed.
The rest of the half has missed opportunities for both teams which could well have made the game a little more lively, the only other real entertainment for us in the first half was the stewards having an argument with various Pompey fans after one guy was apparently ‘pushed’ over the barrier during the goal celebrations, which I think finished up with the guy being removed anyway. In my opinion, a harsh conclusion to what could have been an exaggeration of passion to scoring a goal.
Roberts, Bennett and McNulty had worked hard but had lost procession on various occasions resulting in a scruffy flow of the game, against difficult oppositions, this has been a reason we are where we are, there has been no consistent ebb of talent flowing game to game.
The second half came and went again, before we even knew it. Not a lot was happening on the field, the game lacked that creativity and excitement we have seen on a few occasions this season, the murmurs of the 1-0 lead leading to a last minute goal conceded could be heard between fans, the atmosphere had seem to vanish with chants few and far between. Ryan Fulton was the positive reflection, a shining light in the recent months which many fans feel we have lacked this season, I possess a level of confidence in him, that I could not seem to share in the likes of Murphy.
With the game flat, Roberts missed some chances; a couple of right footed shots not finding the net, Evans could have done more. Stevenage mixed things up and Cook responded throwing on Michael Smith, a player who has not shown as much as many would have hoped, along with Naismith, replacing McNulty and Roberts respectively. Was this the spark to see it out?
With these changes, the weather decided to match and brought with it a horrendous down pour of hail, the game taking a turn, battering us down in Row A, it was this point my Twitter updates withheld, the second of taking a phone out of my pocket, the difference between a dry and freezing cold wet hand, it really was an awful outlook. My feeling was with the poor photographers sat in front of me with covers over their screens, who I had previously joked the rain would come – to light hearted banter between us – little did we know.
Personally, I don’t think Smith has done enough to warrant a starting place over the likes of McNulty and Chaplin so the introduction from the bench was the right call, and he did his bit to ensure the result was ground out. Naismith was the real winner here for Cook, putting a shift in like he always does, utilising his experience gained at Hartlepool on loan earlier in the campaign, really trying to cement and prove his place in the Pompey first team set up, making his mark for this week with his first blues goal. Could this be the platform he needs to push on and show the fans what we have been missing? The jury is still out with many fans divided as to his future.
2-0 was flattering Pompey to this point, Naismith’s goal much needed when the nerves were high everyone expecting that equaliser to come, the atmosphere had dropped and the game was lacking quality, the ball hitting the back of the net, breathed a huge relief within the away stand, the home stands then began to empty, which was not to take long with the 4,000 odd fans in attendance.
Stevenage fought to the end, a few chances coming their way, Connor Ogilvie worked hard to find something.
Cook threw on Freeman replacing Bennett, to tighten things up at the back and see the game out. Stevenage gave it all they could but couldn’t find a goal – about the only thing they found all day was the bar late on with Tom Conlon’s drive. The final action coming from the same player in the 96th minute, with a left footed shot over the bar, bringing with it the referee’s whistle.
Pompey fans flooded for the exit, after a brief applause and chant for the hard work from the players, the weather really did control the length of this post match celebration, which was minimal, the points were ours, the trip successful, I felt for the others having to endure a miserable drive home, with me sneaking across the railways for an hour back to my warm flat. A 2-0 win was probably a little flattering but all in all a much needed 3 points, with Accrington dropping 2 points, the focus turned straight to Tuesday, which at this moment, really is our biggest game of the season.
Can Cook get them together to go again in what won’t be an easy trip, Fulton’s presence will again be much felt, and can he build on his first clean sheet, in what will be a much more testing game? Doyle’s work across the middle will ensure a captain’s performance is greatly appreciated and who will get the nod up top once again, will Cook stick with the same or will there be a tweak or two to get the ebb and flow among us again. All I know is the wins must keep coming if we are to start the journey to get us back to where we belong, win lose or draw we do it together.
Keep believing. Play Up Pompey.
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