Fratton fear factor floors Pompey’s players

Pompey suffered frustration against Carlisle at home on the first day of the season. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey suffered frustration against Carlisle at home on the first day of the season. Picture: Joe Pepler
Jack Whatmough, centre, was gaffer for a day Josh Sweetmans Pompey man of the match from Saturdays draw against Walsall

Pompey 1 Walsall 1: Gaffer for a day

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The Fratton faithful remain the envy of many within football, their passion, loyalty and numbers rarely equalled.

Yet that immense supporter strength is proving to be the players’ undoing.

Hartlepool’s visit represented an impressive 12th occasion during Paul Cook’s regime that a Fratton Park crowd has crashed through the 17,000 barrier.

However, the outcome from that show of fan unity was depressingly familiar – a failure to win.

Startlingly, during those 12 bumper attendances, only Bristol Rovers’ visit on February 13, 2016, has resulted in a Blues victory.

The other 11 have yielded five draws and six defeats for the hosts, whose players continue struggling to respond to such outstanding backing.

Even when their supporters are at their most dominant and possessing the mightiest of voices, Pompey toil to produce a Fratton Park triumph.

And it’s that issue which keeps hampering Cook’s playing squad, irrespective of ongoing debates over personnel or systems.

The subject of Blues players being intimidated when performing in front of large crowds has long been discussed.

Even before Cook’s arrival, while sinking through the Football League it has become apparent the fear factor often grips a number of home players rather than the opposition.

Yet, now more than ever, with attendances presently rivalling the club’s two-year stint in the Championship, it is applying the handbrake to Pompey progress.

Mentally at this level, there are Blues footballers who find it tough to perform at Fratton Park – particularly in front of more than 17,000 supporters.

Hartlepool’s weekend visit attracted a crowd of 17,081, of which 132 were located in the visitors’ end.

The goalless scoreline was influenced by the Pools’ keeper Trevor Carson, nonetheless for a side seeking promotion it represented a desperately poor outcome.

The highest attendance this season remains the opening-day visit of Carlisle United, with 17,570 present.

Goalkeeper Mark Gillespie turned in a man-of-the-match display to secure a 1-1 draw for his team, who are currently second in the table.

Then, in October, Notts County were the visitors for a fixture watched by 17,269 – and ended in a 2-1 defeat to Pompey.

Last term, the presence of Plymouth (18,423) and Northampton (18,746) in the final month of the league campaign ended in 2-1 losses for Cook’s side.

Then the play-off semi-final first leg with Plymouth finished in a 2-2 draw, watched by a crowd of 17,622.

In January 2016, Oxford United proved themselves the best side to visit Fratton Park last season with a 1-0 victory in front of 17,840.

There was similarly no shame in 2-1 defeats to Reading (18,190) and Bournemouth (18.901) in cup competitions.

Completing the 12 best-attended Pompey matches under Cook were goalless draws with Yeovil (17,309) and Luton (17.668) during that 2015-16 campaign.

The fans continue to do their bit – now it’s up to the players to cope with such expectations.