A Very Good Friday

Anthony Hesse delivers his verdict on Pompey’s victory against Notts County.

That was much more like it! Our most convincing win for quite a while, probably since beating Hartlepool by the same margin in mid December.

The day didn’t start quite so positively for us though with what is usually a 75 minute drive down taking nearly 3 hours. The Bank Holiday traffic was very heavy from the moment we joined the M25, with long queues on the A3 getting through Guildford, the roundabout near Liss, and then a 5 mile tailback near Petersfield due to an accident near the Clanfield exit. Very frustrating.

What is becoming more and more apparent is that you can tell what kind of Pompey performance we are going to get from how we start the game. We were on it from the kick off today, with much more intent being shown by the whole team. With 4 changes from the Mansfield line up, Cook was looking for a reaction, and he certainly got it.

I was one of Michael Smith’s biggest critics last week. I thought he was dreadful. Today he looked like a different player, and I can see why Cook started him. County’s two centre backs were basically a couple thugs. I lost count how many times Smith got fouled. I don’t like going on about officials, but the referee was an absolute joke today, almost ruining the game. The linesman on the north stand side was no better, bottling loads of decisions that most of us could see loud and clear. You do have to question whether these officials are ever watched, as some of them are truly awful.

Notts County are one of the poorest sides I’ve seen this season, and certainly one of the nastiest. How they didn’t have anyone sent off is beyond me (referee basically bottled it). At times it was like watching a wrestling match. Mark Cooper has certainly got his work cut out. They might have some good players, but there is disharmony in that team.

Whilst the game was fairly even for the first half, we were definitely the better team, and a beautifully weighted pass from Enda Stevens to Kyle Bennett after about 40 minutes led to our first goal. Bennett did what he hasn’t done for much of the season and used his pace to ‘skin’ his opposite number like he wasn’t there and literally ran in the box and thumped the ball in the back of the net. A great individual goal at an ideal time. Half time 1-0.

We started the second half exactly as we finished the first, on the front foot. Within less than 5 minutes we were 2-0 up. A free kick from Paul Jones started the move which was finished by a great chest down by Smith to Roberts who put a sublime ball through to the unmarked Bennett to run towards goal, beating the once highly regarded Scott Loach who now looks a shadow of his former self.

At this point in the game we sat back a little and County started to get back into the game, though rarely looked like scoring. There was one very scary moment when they whipped a high ball into the box. Jones, who had looked very assured up until this moment, leapt high above everyone else to catch the ball, but as he landed with the ball in his hands he dropped it. Stead went to poke it in the goal but missed and Jones gathered it up safely.

It was one of those BIG moments in the game. If Stead has scored and County had gone on to get something out of the game, we may never have seen Jones play for us again. Fair dues to Paul Cook, he could see what was happening and started to make changes, all three of which worked very well, especially the last, bringing on McNulty for Roberts.

We went on to score two more goals, the first an own goal following a quick free kick from Stevens I think? Burgess timed his run perfectly and headed the ball, I think off one of their defenders, into the back of the net. 3-0 after about 80 minutes. Our final goal was our best – a beautiful header by McNulty from a great Ben Davies free kick. One of our goals of the season for me. 4-0 and about the right scoreline.

There were no poor performances from the Pompey team today. Jones looked very comfortable, though didn’t have a great deal to contend with. His distribution now looks better, and he certainly commands his box better. Burgess and Clarke both looked very comfortable, and were hardly troubled by McLeod and co. Stevens had a great game, with two assists, and one amazing track back to rob McLeod of the ball when looking very dangerous late in the second half. Ben Davies also played well, with some great deliveries.

Doyle and Hollands did what they do best and both looked very solid in midfield. The more I see of Doyle, the more I realise how clever (and naughty) he is. He has the ability to wind up the opposition big time, invariably getting them carded, rarely being innocent himself.

The trio of Roberts, McGurk and Bennett just in behind Smith worked reasonably well, though I was a little disappointed by Roberts and McGurk, especially the latter who had a gilt-edged chance to score very early in the second half following another great free kick from Davies. He had a completely free header which he almost completely missed, glancing it wide of the goal. It was honestly easier to score. Roberts did OK and did help Bennett score his second, but Bennett was the star of the trio, and the show for me. My MOTM. It was so refreshing to see him being so direct, and a shame he didn’t score what would have been a very well deserved hat trick.

All in all, a very GOOD FRIDAY for all Pompey fans. Now we need to take this level of performance to Wimbledon on Monday. I am still scarred from last year’s performance there so hopefully we can banish those ghosts.

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