Mark Docherty delivers his verdict on Pompey’s home defeat to Newport County.
To quote Paul Cook in his post match press conference, “That game summed up our season. We promised so much and then failed to deliver.” Well, I couldn’t have put it better myself. After the dismantling of promotion rivals, Accrington Stanley, in midweek, Pompey slumped to a comfortable 3-0 defeat at the hands of 19th placed Newport County. In truth, the scoreline could have been far more, but Pompey fans have been left wondering why their team seem unable to string a run of good performances together.
Admittedly, the circumstances of the game would have made it very difficult for Pompey to get a result. The steady stream of Pompey bookings, as well as a number of lenient decisions towards their opponents meant that the Blues seemed up against it from the off. Quite frankly, Ryan Fulton was fouled for Newport’s first goal and Gary Roberts was given a second yellow card for being hacked down. However, these are the kinds of things a promotion winning team has to be able to deal with. It’s not as if Northampton Town have been allocated better referees than Pompey have, or that all the 50/50 decisions have gone their way. The difference between them and Pompey is that they are able to take matters into their own hands, and win despite the decisions that go against them. That’s why they are top of the league.
Right from the start, Pompey lacked their usual rhythm and, although they were able to keep possession around the halfway line and move the ball from side to side expertly, they simply never looked like scoring. The team lacked the spark of creativity that can unlock a defence and, unsurprisingly, when Newport were presented with their first chance of the game (another set piece), they took it.
However questionable the goal was, even though Pompey should have been awarded a free kick for a foul on Fulton, they still failed to deal with a simple set piece. The goalkeeper still came out to catch the ball and failed to claim it. You can make as many excuses as you want, it was poor on Pompey’s part.
Similarly for the red card, Roberts may have been taken out just outside the area in a great position to curl in a free kick, and instead found himself given a second yellow card for diving, but he shouldn’t have got his first yellow card. He needlessly kicked out at a player through frustration, which ended up earning him an early bath. The refereeing howler wouldn’t have mattered if he hadn’t already picked up a needless booking. Again, poor on Pompey’s part. On the day though, Pompey could have played with eleven men all afternoon and would hardly have registered a shot on target.
The fact of the matter is: League 2 referees would not be officiating at such a low level if they were able to consistently make correct decisions. Over the course of the season, the number of poor decisions each team is on the end of evens out, and the teams which are at the top of the league will be the ones who have taken matters into their own hands and dealt with poor decisions as well as they can.
Pompey can’t keep blaming poor results on referees. Instead, they need to take the initiative. It won’t matter if a poor decision leads to Pompey conceding a goal if they have already gone and got themselves a couple of goals ahead. That’s what the top teams do – that’s why they are at the top. The ultimate aim has to be to get out of this division, and into one where results are not so often dictated by poor referees. Until that time, Pompey need to push on, deal with poor refereeing decisions, and stop searching for excuses.
Having said all that, there is still plenty of time for Pompey to secure a promotion spot. Although today’s result puts Pompey back down to sixth place, they are still only six points off top. With ten games remaining, a good run of results can boost Pompey back into the automatic promotion places, while they are already in the play-off spots. Pompey just need to move on from this game, and fast. They need to use it as a lesson, to show them that they need to take the initiative in games, and not rely on decisions going their way. As was shown by the atmosphere at the end of the match, the fans (well, most of them) are behind the team, and it is in the team’s hands to reward the fans with promotion.
You can check out Mark’s blog site here http://frattonendview.sportsblog.com/.
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[Photo: Official PFC]