Saturday 31st March.
At this stage of the season when the second division beckons,
performances matter little and results are paramount. Today’s was
just one of those games, and to use an overworked cliché was a game
of two halves. The biggest surprise in team selection was Macari’s
persistence with the same back four as the previous home game against
Sheffield United. The clever money was on Jim Brennan making his
debut at left back with Steve Jenkins returning to his accustomed
right back slot and Heary warming the substitutes bench. This was
not the case however, and perhaps it was just another case of Lou
Macari trying to surprise everyone with his unorthodox team selections
unless Brennan wasn’t fully match fit. The striking conundrum was
finally revealed as Booth was paired with Lee Morris, leaving Gallen
and Facey as substitutes alongside Adie Moses who was inexplicably
chosen ahead of Kevin Gray (why oh why?).
The game began with an early chance for Portsmouth, but Nico Vaesen
was well up to the task and after this early scare Town began to
dominate play without ever really looking in control. Pompey keeper
Aaron Flavhaven was the busier of the two stoppers but we fail to
seriously test the slightly shaky looking custodian. Town lacked
any real penetration as it took time for them to adjust to finally
having a target man to aim for. The modicum of pace that Booth had
in his previous spell at Town looks to have deserted him somewhat,
but his ability to hold the ball up has improved along with his
Wide men Thornley and Baldry squandered possession too easily on
a number of occasions and failed to provide any real service for
Andy Booth. Jamie Vincent was quite effective marshalling Baldry,
and the former Town player who was roundly booed (amongst other
jibes) each time he was in possession of the ball. The vitriol aimed
towards Vincent took some of the heat off their two imports from
Vile Parade. Lee Sharpe was largely anonymous and the career of
the former Manchester United star looks to be in serious decline,
however, striker Lee Mills had a more tangible impact on proceedings.
From a Town attack, Portsmouth played the ball out of defence through
our static looking midfield and towards the defence who stood off
as the ball was played across to Lee Mills. As Dyson and Jenkins
raced in to tackle, the former Bantam wrapped his foot around the
ball and lashed home an unstoppable drive from 25 yards out. The
only thing wrong with the goal was that it went in at the wrong
end although you had to acknowledge the quality of the strike.
Portsmouth perked up after taking the lead, as did the bell-ringing
moron, who always follows Pompey on their travels. When you are
losing the constant ding ding of his bell is particularly abrasive,
and you find yourself wishing he would buy himself an ice cream
van so he could ring his bell whilst flogging a few 99’s – in Portsmouth.
Recently returned from injury, Mills had further opportunities to
widen the margin and Vaesen was forced to save one effort with his
legs whilst the other was hoofed over the bar to spare our blushes
further. Half-time came as a welcome relief as the game was poor
and it might hopefully give the players time to regroup.
I have commented before about the difference between the interval
pep talks given by Bruce and Macari. I don’t know whether it is
Macari or Jordan who winds up the players during the interval, but
they make a better fist of it than their predecessor. If we are
to survive this season then much of it can be attributed to the
fact that there must be something special put in the half time tea
now but I just wish they would do it before the match starts. Thankfully
today was just one of those games and the team looked a different
proposition in the second half.
Perhaps they had identified how to bring Andy Booth more into
the game because he started to look much more involved. Town really
began to dominate with Lee Morris able to feed off Booth’s flick-ons
and Dean Gorré becoming much more influential pulling the strings
from midfield. It came as no real surprise when Town drew level
and the scorer was none other than our returning hero.
Following a 55th minute free kick from the half way line, the
ball was only cleared as far as Dean Gorré who lobbed the ball back
into the penalty area where it was met by Jon Dyson and his header
evaded two Portsmouth defenders towards the lurking Booth neatly
steered his shot past the flailing Flahaven. The crowd went wild
as Booth raced along the touchline to celebrate his homecoming.
Within 5 minutes of the equaliser Delroy Facey was introduced to
replace the ineffective Ben Thornley, giving us a home-grown striking
partnership for the first time since…I don’t know when, with Lee
Morris taking up a position wide on the left.
Inspired by Booth’s goal, livened up by the quick running of Lee
Morris, and lifted by the never-say-die attitude of Delroy Facey,
Town really got to grips with the game. The longer the game went
on the more Pompey keeper Aaron Flahaven looked seriously dodgy
and in one moment of disarray carried the ball from his own goal
line and outside the penalty area. This was hilarious and almost
gave Town the lead as Gorré’s free kick spun off the wall into the
path of Booth but his rushed effort was saved by the keepers legs.
They began to run Portsmouth ragged and even Simon Baldry started
to make Vincent look pretty ordinary, the only surprise being that
it took us until the 71st minute to take the lead, but it was worth
Dean Gorré was now back to his imperious best (probably the best
he has played all season) and seemed becalmed in midfield, twisting
and turning to evade the attentions of two Portsmouth players. Eventually
he managed to work himself enough space to lift a delightful ball
over the top towards the advancing Delroy Facey. Facey always looked
second favourite to collect the ball as he and Carl Tiler raced
towards goal, but the Town front man used all his pace and physical
presence to muscle the Portsmouth defender off the ball, then after
steadying himself slightly he unleashed a vicious 10 yard shot into
the back of the net.
It was no less than Town deserved and the whole team was purring,
for once the defence looked solid and this gave Armstrong and Gorré
in midfield chance to bring Morris and Baldry more into the game.
Despite our complete domination at this time we were unable to add
to the lead until the dying minutes when we doubled our tally. Portsmouth
had changed their personnel between the sticks when Chris Tardif
(a time machine with a lisp?) replaced the feckless Aaron Flahaven
with 10 minutes to go, ostensibly this was due to a hand injury
requiring stitches, but we all know that the real reason was that
he was withdrawn to avoid further embarrassment.
Almost at the end of normal time, Lee Morris who revelled in his
wide left berth picked the ball up in centre field and began to
race towards the Portsmouth penalty area. He dropped his shoulder
and tried to power past his defender who after much shirt pulling
finally unbalanced the on-loan youngster, and the referee had no
other option than to point to the spot. Just one problem, new penalty
taker Martin Smith was injured, Kenny Irons was on the bench and
Craig Armstrong failed to score his effort at Bolton. No problem,
Dean Gorré stepped up to take the kick and calmly stroked the ball
home sending Tardif the wrong way.
I was pleased for Gorré who played well today, and I was delighted
when another Huddersfield product scored a fourth goal in the last
minute of stoppage time. Andy Booth laid the ball off to Simon Baldry
who advanced towards the corner flag despite the close attentions
of a Portsmouth defender. Seemingly trapped in the corner, he cleverly
knocked the ball towards the penalty area, and after a lucky deflection
off Jamie Vincent (cheers Jamie) passed to Delroy Facey who held
the ball up just long enough to be able to feed the overlapping
Baldry and he steered a deft shot off the outside of his boot into
the back of the net.
It’s been a miserable season in so many ways, and it was great
to score 4 goals for the first time since…well, a long time ago.
If we are to survive this year then we must win most if not all
of our home games and pick up what we can from the numerous remaining
away games. Unfortunately both Crystal Palace and Stockport won
today so we remain in the relegation places, but with a game at
Selhurst Park on Tuesday our fate is still in our own hands.
TOWN 4 (Booth 55, Facey 71, Gorré 89 (pen),
Portsmouth 1 (Mills 33)
Position in table – 22nd
Town – Vaesen; Jenkins; Lucketti; Dyson;
Heary; Thornley (Facey 59); Armstrong; Gorré; Booth; Morris;
Baldry (Brennan 90). Subs not used – Margetson; Moses; Gallen.
Portsmouth – Flahaven (Tardif 80); Vincent;
Crowe; Tiler; Hiley; Sharpe (Nightingale 90); Brady (Lovell
71); Harper; Panapoulis; Mills; Wooleaston. Subs not used
– Waterman; Miglioranzi.
Referee – Paul Alcock (Kent). Attendance