Comment: Pompey bottled chance to put pressure on third spot

Pompey were disappointed not to beat Mansfield. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey were disappointed not to beat Mansfield. Picture: Joe Pepler
Plymouth Argyle's Remi Matthews. Picture: PA Images

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Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.

And following last weekend’s dismal 3-0 home loss to Newport, Pompey had the opportunity to bounce back to winning ways at Mansfield on Saturday and reassert themselves in the automatic promotion race.

It was a frustrating day for Kyle Bennett and his team-mates. Picture: Joe Pepler

It was a frustrating day for Kyle Bennett and his team-mates. Picture: Joe Pepler

Instead, they bottled it.

A second successive lacklustre display saw Paul Cook’s side depart the One Call Stadium with a pretty meaningless point and their seething manager’s words ringing in their ears.

Make no bones about it, Cook was an angry man in the wake of the Blues’ 1-1 draw at the Stags.

On one of the coldest days I can remember since covering Pompey, the gaffer emerged from the tunnel after his post-match dressing down of the players covered in sweat.

While a gathering of coat-and-scarf-clad media shivered in anticipation of his assessment of the game, t-shirt wearing Cook sought unusual solace in the home dugout to collect his thoughts and presumably get his breath back.

An impromptu chat with chief executive Mark Catlin and chairman Iain McInnes kept the press waiting further, before the Blues boss returned to give his damning verdict on what he had seen,

The tone of what was to come was made all the more apparent by the manager’s insistence Christian Burgess and Michael Smith abandon pre-arranged media interviews, with the pair waved back inside.

What followed was an emotional appraisal of where Cook felt his team were at, with automatic promotion increasingly unlikely – a ‘self-inflicted’ predicament.

He underlined three key areas of concern – an inability to keep clean sheets, a lack of clear-cut chances and most worryingly of all, players underperforming.

On the latter point, it is hard to fathom that this same group of individuals earned cup success against Championship sides Derby and Ipswich and pushed Premier League Bournemouth all the way.

Harder still that of the five sides currently residing above them in League Two, the Blues have beaten four – Northampton, Bristol Rovers, Plymouth and Accrington.

Only second-placed Oxford have avoided defeat to Cook’s side, who have twice got the better of both Accy and Rovers this term.

And yet on Saturday, after missing an early penalty and then falling behind to the Stags, when Pompey were handed an unlikely way back into the game on the stroke of half-time they failed to take it.

The Blues should have seized the opportunity offered to them by Ryan Tafazolli’s own goal to put themselves right back into the automatic promotion shake-up, instead they are five points off the pace in sixth spot.

Sat in the press box, I could not for the life of me understand the lack of urgency in Pompey’s play, when the importance of a winning goal in the game was surely clear to all.

Put simply, if you didn’t know a win would have put Cook’s men within three points of third spot you would never have guessed it.

Little wonder then the boss was so incensed after the full-time whistle.

With nine games to go, the Blues are not out of the race for the top three yet but you get the feeling they are now starting to look nervously over their shoulders as well.