AFC Wimbledon 1 Pompey 0

Paul Jones produced a string of fine saves. Picture: Joe Pepler
Paul Jones produced a string of fine saves. Picture: Joe Pepler
Dion Donohue. Picture: Colin Farmery

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There’s a new ground to explore in the form of Vanarama champions-elect Barnet, now Underhill and its famous slope is no more.

Elsewhere, the dreaded trip to Hartlepool still has not been eradicated after another win has left the Pools a mere point from safety.

Still, the trip to League One relegation certainties Yeovil is always pleasant, providing there are no torrential downpours above the uncovered away end.

All entirely relevant to Pompey, of course.

Following Saturday’s result, League Two will unfortunately remain the home of Andy Awford’s side.

And with it brings the prospect of Barnet, Hartlepool and Yeovil appearing on the Fratton faithful’s fixture list in 2015-16 as a third season in the bottom division beckons.

Admittedly, mathematically speaking the Blues’ destiny has yet to be decided, certainly the play-offs are not impossible to reach.

Realistically, however, surely that is now it. Game over.

If Pompey were in a relegation battle nine points adrift of safety with eight matches remaining, it would be widely accepted there would be no survival.

As it is, they are in 13th spot and short of seventh by the same points and games tally.

For all the hope of a late charge into those four play-off spots a magnificent February generated, the month of March has sucked the energy out of the legs.

At Kingsmeadow on Saturday, a miserable 1-0 defeat delivered a punch to send Pompey crumpling on to the canvass. Not a knockout blow but unquestionably the count has started and is nearing its end.

So much for the target of a play-off challenge publicly set for Awford by chairman Iain McInnes on the eve of the campaign, with the aid of one of the top budgets in the division.

It has now materialised into a battle to finish above 13th – a position which would at least represent progress from last term’s finish under the then-caretaker boss.

In truth, a side with two league victories on their travels to date cannot possibly expect to finish in the top seven in League Two this season.

And Pompey won’t, barring a minor miracle of Great Escape proportions – albeit rather higher up the league 
table.

AFC Wimbledon were the latest to add their name to the list of clubs Pompey have failed to defeat away from home.

Mind you, Neal Ardley’s side also won at Fratton Park on Boxing Day, with a certain Matt Tubbs on the scoresheet in a 2-0 success.

Tubbs, of course, was in the Blues’ line-up on Saturday as they produced one of their poorest displays of the season in a wretched football match.

The Wombles also played their part in a dreadful advert for the quality of League Two – a fixture which will be remembered more for the amount of balls kicked out of the ground than anything else.

Yet Ardley’s side emerged with the victory – and a deserved one at that – to at least ease the boredom among their spectators.

Not so the 908 Blues followers in attendance who were left stunned at the inadequacy of their team a week to the day since a gutsy victory over Luton Town.

That is now five points from a possible 15 in March and suddenly the stardust has again started to run out for February’s manager of the month.

Regardless, the introduction of the 3-5-2 system has made Pompey hard to beat these days – their Wimbledon failure only a second loss in 12 games.

A stunning statistic which serves as an indicator of the impressive manner in which Awford has turned this side around having so narrowly avoided dismissal in January.

However, even that superb run has failed to lift the Blues into play-off contention – indicating a surge left too little, too late in another wasted League Two campaign.

They can have no complaints over Saturday’s result, a thoroughly below-par performance amid an abject football match.

The least poor side on the day claimed the victory – and had it not been for Paul Jones the scoreline would have been more convincing.

With Jack Whatmough joining Paul Robinson on the sidelines through injury and Andy Barcham failing to recover from a knock, Awford made four changes for the trip.

Danny East was given his first start of the campaign at right wing-back, while Nyron Nosworthy was presented with his debut in the back three.

Pompey’s boss also elected to recall Ben Chorley – a player who didn’t even reach the match-day 18 the previous fixture – as Adam Webster made way.

Finally, the second loan recruit to arrive on Thursday, Cole Kpekawa, 
was asked to play left wing-back in place of Dan Butler, who dropped to the bench.

The decision to leave out Webster and Butler was a blow to both players eager to prove their first-team worth – and with unsigned contracts still on the table.

As it was, the game’s decisive moment arrived as early as the sixth minute through a moment of poor defending from the visitors.

Full-back Barry Fuller fed the unmarked Craig Tanner down the right-hand channel of the penalty area and although his shot was heading wide, it was diverted into his own net by Chorley.

A harsh return to first-team life for the skipper in only his fourth appearance since before Christmas as he battles to win a fresh deal at Fratton Park.

The manner of the goal perfectly replicated the match which unfolded, an occasion full of errors, mis-kicks and poor moments of play.

Although in the first half it did take an excellent finger-tip save from Ross Worner to deny Tubbs’ header from Jed Wallace’s delivery from the left.

That was comfortably the closest the visitors came to netting and not even the presence of four strikers on the pitch for the final 12 minutes could inspire them.

Instead, it was Wimbledon who finished the strongest, with Adebayo Azeez causing problems with his pace having come off the bench.

Jones had to pull off several stops as Pompey surged forward in search of an equaliser, saving from Jake Reeves, Azeez and Jack Smith late on.

Perhaps a greater scoreline would have been harsh on the Blues but the result was not and they now reside in 13th spot.

The campaign may not be finished but the Fratton faithful already know where their team will be next season.