Hawks 0 Pompey 4

Conor Chaplin. Picture: Paul Currie/Bluepitch media

Chaplin reflects on Pompey’s defeat to Donny

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It’s easy to over-analyse a pre-season friendly.

A sense of perspective is always required for a game that is – essentially – a training session against another team.

Had Pompey lost at non-league neighbours Hawks, there would have been no inquest, no raised voices or angry exchanges.

Well, at least that’s what we would have been told.

After all, this is all about fitness at this embryonic stage of the season.

But there are standards to set, levels of commitment to display and showing the right attitude is vital in games like these.

In those terms, Andy Awford can have few complaints at his side’s first run-out.

His men – all 26 of them – did what was required and probably a bit more.

They boosted their individual fitness levels, they played the game in the right spirit and gave the occasion the proper respect it deserved.

The Hawks, after all, have been there to offer a helping hand to Pompey in their hour of need on more than one occasion in the recent past.

Perhaps the most telling gesture was that of a potential ground share had Pompey been booted out of Fratton Park during those dark and troubled times.

Thankfully, that scenario never unfolded but that solidarity has not been forgotten.

They are certainly friendly neighbours but that didn’t stop the Westleigh Park outfit from wanting to beat their League Two opponents.

Plenty of non-league footballers have either played at the higher level in the past or believe they should in the future.

Often, the only real difference between the higher levels of non-league football and the lower reaches of the Football League is fitness and consistency of performance.

Ability levels are often closely-matched.

Even the most ardent Hawks fan would probably concede Pompey just had a little bit more over the course of this contest.

Although the fact Awford could call upon so many pairs of fresh legs for two-and-a-half teams probably played its part as well.

But even when fitness, experience and a touch more quality are on your side, that doesn’t always guarantee a result if the work ethic isn’t there to match it.

And Pompey’s impressive attitude made sure they weren’t ever close to being embarrassed by the scoreline.

After all, even when results don’t matter, they tend to mean a little bit when you lose to non-league opposition.

In fairness, there was little danger of that happening.

Neither of the new Blues goalkeepers – Michael Poke and Paul Jones – had an awful lot to do over the course of the 90 minutes.

They will be looking for a few more opportunities to press their claims for selection over the course of the coming weeks before Awford has to make a decision for the trip to Exeter on August 9.

He has already stated he does not see either of them as his number one or number two just yet.

But if he had to choose based on this evidence, he might as well flip a coin.

It’s hard to make a judgement call on a keeper who doesn’t have a save to make.

That was not the case for Hawks’ first-half goalkeeper, Ryan Young, who pulled off a series of cracking stops in his 45 minutes on the pitch.

It became a personal duel with Jed Wallace at one stage with the Pompey midfielder peppering his goal, only to be denied with every effort.

Wallace twice called Young into action and was inches away from finding the top corner with another effort that grazed the upright.

Of the new recruits on show for the first half an hour, James Dunne certainly caught the eye with a couple of bone-shaking tackles in midfield.

Those sorts of challenges will make him a popular addition to the ranks – especially when he is flying in when things are even more competitive.

And his midfield partner Nigel Atangana also showed flashes of promise as he was given the captain’s armband on his return to his old stomping ground.

Awford had already made four substitutions before the interval but then switched the other seven at the break.

And one of those, Craig Westcarr, opened the scoring soon afterwards, slotting home from close range.

There was more than a hint of controversy about it as Ryan Bird challenged substitute keeper Scott Bevan for a high ball after Danny East had pumped in a cross.

With the Hawks claiming a foul on the keeper, Bevan dropped the cross to Westcarr, who made no mistake.

If the former Walsall man continues with that uncanny knack of being in the right 
place at the right time when 
the real stuff starts, he could prove a very useful acquisition for the Blues.

The goal gave Pompey an extra spring in their step and they were soon in complete control with almost the entire game being played in the Hawks half.

Another batch of substitutions kicked them up another gear, especially with the introduction of Ricky Holmes, who added an extra dimension to Pompey’s attacking play.

Sporting a new Samurai hairstyle, Holmes sliced his way through the defence at will and laid the second goal on a plate for Bird with Westcarr also involved in a sharp build-up.

Bird then repaid the favour as Pompey made it 3-0 with the goal of the game.

Ben Close interecepted Pedro Monteiro’s pass before Bird released Holmes to chip home with a classy finish.

The reigning player of the year still wasn’t done.

And another raid into enemy territory was eventually ended with Danny Hollands’ shot blocked by the Hawks’ third goalkeeper, Charlie Searle, only for Westcarr to steer home the rebound with another neat finish.

In his half an hour or so on the Westleigh Park pitch, Holmes showed he should play an influential part in the coming season if he continues in the same fashion.

Pre-season fixtures can often be painfully dull affairs.

Thankfully, this wasn’t one of them and gave us a glimpse of how things may look next month.