I’m always cautious about making comments on the bigger clubs. I’m sure there is a zealot Morecambe or Accrington fan somewhere who takes personal exception to you having even a single opinion about them, but when you expand those clubs to the size of someone like Portsmouth, that number is likely to be significantly higher and chances are a few will stumble across your blog to take mortal offence.
But, for the first time since they appeared in League 2, Pompey looked more comfortable in their skin on Saturday. It is a curious, probably unique, mix. A club with the pressure of playing in front of a Premier League type crowd, but without the money to invest in the players able to cope mentally with those demands. It must make recruitment a nightmare. For once, though, they look like they’re getting somewhere.
But, we matched them, or they us, depending on how you look at it. Saturday was League 2 football at it’s best. The game pulsed throughout with their quality in possession and our attacking drive. They dominated the opening 10 minutes, we took the rest of the half. Callum O’Dowda’s exit was significant, like he’s the ignition key for our machine.
Second half they re-established themselves when we looked dead on our feet. I momentarily looked away when McGurk’s shot went in, but the bloke in front of me yelped “OH, SHIT!” as it did, so I knew something was up. Liam Sercombe’s driving run which drew the foul from Doyle, leading to his red card, was probably as important as his goal because it took the sting out of the pressure Pompey were building while we were peddling squares. Ultimately, the draw was a fair result.
There was talk after the game about the introduction of Hoban over Roberts. There’s little doubt that Roberts is the more finessed player, but, at that point, when Lundstram and Roofe were running on fumes and O’Dowda was off, was the team equipped to give Roberts the chances in front of goal he needed? At that point, I think, only a speculative haymaker was going to deliver the knockout punch; Hoban or Taylor were the better options to go for the three points and protect the one.
I’ve said from the off that this game was always going to be significant in the context of the season; the first real assessment of our chances. The result is that we’ve responded to every challenge we’ve been given. Look at the table – Orient, Pompey, Plymouth, Wycombe, us – you wouldn’t be surprised to see those five at the top come May. The first selection has happened and we’re part of it.