Anthony Hesse shares his thoughts on Pompey’s key victory against Carlisle. 

What a difference a week makes. A journey that took nearly 3 hours on Good Friday took just over an hour today. Bathed in the warm spring sunshine, the Fratton Park playing surface looked an absolute picture as the teams walked out. Maybe it is just me, but I really don’t like our team coming to ‘We will rock you’. I much preferred Elbow’s ‘One day like this’.

When the Pompey team was announced as unchanged at just after 2pm the only surprise for me was that Cook had kept McGurk in the starting line up. Whilst I understand it is usually a good policy to keep a winning team I personally would have started McNulty, or even Evans, ahead of McGurk.

Whilst Pompey started brightly enough, their endeavour was equalled by Carlisle and it quickly turned into a very dull affair, with neither team doing enough to take what would have been an undeserved lead.

The 0-0 scoreline at half time was a fair reflection of what we’d witnessed. I can only recall two moments when either team came close to scoring, the first a well executed free kick from outside the box by Ben Davies that agonisingly missed the target, and the second when Carlisle’s Mark Ellis was left clear inside the box but volleyed the ball high over the bar into the Fratton End.

The other ‘attempts’ on goal were woefully off target, especially two or three from Danny Hollands which almost ended up over the Milton End roof. His hat-trick in our final home game against Plymouth a couple of seasons ago seems a distant memory!

The only other point of note in the first half was Carlisle’s style of play when coming away from the back. At times they looked like they were trying to emulate Barcelona with their keeper taking every opportunity, including from goal kicks, to pass the ball out from defence. Strangely though, the ball often ended up back at the feet of their keeper who then hoofed the ball up to their front men!

Although the first half did little to raise the spirits of the Fratton Faithful, the parade of ex-Pompey players at half time did lift the crowd. Hearing the Fratton End singing ‘Oh Toddy Toddy, Toddy Toddy Toddy Toddy Todorov’ was so good to hear again. Whilst he didn’t jump into the FE, he did walk over and bow with respect – one of the highlights of the day for me!

Pompey came out after the break a good minute before Carlisle and proceeded to put in a shift that was deserving of all three points. We could have been 2 or 3 nil up before we did score, and but for better finishing and anticipation by McGurk the scoreline would have been more reflective of our dominance. With one of his chances, McGurk was put clean through with only their keeper to beat but instead of doubling our slender lead he hit the left upright. I genuinely think McNulty would have scored if presented with the same opportunity.

Our goal came from some great work from Kyle Bennett who had another excellent game. Having beaten one of their defenders with his trickery his fierce shot was parried away by their keeper but Michael Smith was there to fire the ball into the back of the night from a tight angle. Having been one of Smith’s biggest critics, especially following the Mansfield game, he has certainly won me round with his last two performances. He is now holding the ball up superbly, giving his opposing defenders a very hard time and working tirelessly for the cause.

As has often happened this season we didn’t bury the game and nearly paid the price as Carlisle had two gilt-edged chances late in the game, the first where their lively substitute Asamoah put a great cross in that ran right across our goalmouth. How on earth a lunging Hallam Hope failed to connect with it I’ll never know. The second came moments later when our jittery defence failed to clear the ball which fell kindly to another sub, Ibehre, whose unchallenged volley from about 10 metres out just cleared the cross bar. Earlier in the season I suspect he would have scored.

With respect to our players’ performances, Paul Jones had very little to do today so it was very difficult to judge him. He certainly ‘looks’ more confident than he did before his last run in the team and he did make one very important punch from a dangerous looking cross when they were pressing for the equaliser. Doyle and Hollands did what they do best and were very solid in their defensive midfield roles. Furthermore, Doyle showed yet again what a great leader he is. Surely he will be a strong contender for ‘Player of the Season’?

I really want to be able to tell you what a fantastic game Roberts had, but yet again he flattered to deceive for me. Burgess, however, was outstanding and my Man of the Match,  although the match day sponsors awarded the honour to Kyle Bennett. Interestingly, against Notts County Burgey was given the award when I think it should have been given to Bennett!

In closing, we did exactly what we needed to today and whilst it wasn’t pretty it was effective, just. We are now five points off the automatic promotion spots with a game in hand. On to Dagenham & Redbridge next Saturday where hopefully we can do what we have failed to do all season and win three on the bounce. Play up Pompey.

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