Notts County 1 Pompey 3: Neil Allen’s match report

Jamal Lowe celebrates with Pompey fans at Meadow Lane. Picture: Joe Pepler
Jamal Lowe celebrates with Pompey fans at Meadow Lane. Picture: Joe Pepler
Brett Pitman celebrates his second goal against Fleetwood. Picture: Joe Pepler

Watch: Pompey striker Pitman’s superb strike

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The breakneck plummet continued to generate pace in the setting of Nottingham.

Almost five years later, Pompey returned – and the ascent has begun.

Jamal Lowe fires Pompey to victory over Notts County. Picture: Joe Pepler

Jamal Lowe fires Pompey to victory over Notts County. Picture: Joe Pepler

Yesterday promotion was assured with three games to spare, as Paul Cook’s side emulated their terrace soundtrack to send them on their way.

Notts County staged the emotional and beer-drenched scenes which have now entered Blues folklore.

There must have been specks of dust in many an eye, prompting them to be unashamedly wiped by those present on regular occasions.

Gary Roberts spoke of seeing grown men crying during the pitch invasion which greeted the final whistle of the 3-1 success.

That is what it truly meant to fans who have been starved of success for almost a decade.

It was 300 yards across the River Trent when the Championship disappeared out of sight following a 2-0 defeat in April 2012.

On that occasion, Michael Appleton’s team were roared on by 2,319 away followers, accompanied by the unfurling of a banner on the Nottingham Forest pitch.

It declared ‘For sale, world’s best fans come free’.

Well, the modern-day Pompey are up for sale and the powers of their outstanding support certainly haven’t diminished.

Fitting then that the east midlands city should host the first step in the escape from the dungeons of the Football League.

It was Jamal Lowe who etched his name permanently on Pompey hearts with a substitute contribution which opened the doors to League One – and the floodgates for plenty of supporters.

Recruited from Hampton & Richmond in January, the winger struck twice in the final 13 minutes with classy right-foot finishes to seal the triumph.

Elsewhere, Mansfield’s 1-1 draw with promotion rivals Luton represented the second part of the carefully-conceived plan coming to fruition.

Pompey couldn’t be caught – and a sixth promotion since the end of the Second World War was accomplished with room to spare.

At the helm has been Paul Cook, marking his 104th match in charge of a tenure which, at times, saw some call for his head, an issue proving divisive during one period.

Yet since defeat against Crewe 45 days ago, he has steered his side to 22 points from a possible 27, reflective of promotion form.

Having arrived at Fratton Park on May 12, 2015 with the words ‘promotion, no messing about’, Cook has achieved his remit during his second year.

Now he sits alongside fellow promotion winners George Smith, Frank Burrows, Bobby Campbell, Alan Ball and Harry Redknapp in the Blues’ rich history.

Similarly, those players who made it possible will be forever Fratton heroes and potential Hall of Famers, many still have integral parts to play in the future.

Meanwhile, urging them on at Meadow Lane were 4,366 Pompey followers, taking over the entire Jimmy Sirrel Stand.

For a club with an average home attendance of 5,619 this season, numbers were swelled to 12,184 as Herman’s Hermit’s ‘Something Good’ drifted from the visiting section to make a comeback.

Cook had been forced to make two changes to the side which drew against Plymouth Argyle 72 hours earlier.

Matt Clarke and Danny Rose both collected knocks in that 1-1 draw, although are anticipated to be in contention for next weekend’s visit of Cambridge United.

Still, Pompey were prompted to bring in Jack Whatmough and Amine Linganzi to replace the sidelined pair.

It was Linganzi’s first appearance in nine matches, while only a second outing for Whatmough since netting at Carlisle in February.

Elsewhere, Cook retained Kal Naismith in attack, with Roberts – the goalscorer against Plymouth – operating behind in the attacking midfield three.

There were also the surprise presences of forgotten men Curtis Main and Stanley Aborah on the Blues’ bench, with Nicke Kabamba missing out.

Notts County included Pompey fan Haydn Hollis in their starting line-up, while ex-Blues defender Richard Duffy was also present.

The bench featured Carl Dickinson, who previously had two loan spells at Fratton Park, and former Southampton promotion winner Jonathan Forte.

Pompey kicked the game off and on three minutes Naismith put Roberts through down the right channel but his touch was poor and it fizzled out.

The deadlock was broken on 14 minutes after an awful challenge from Duffy.

Michael Doyle threaded a pass through to Naismith down the left channel and as he attempted to trick his way on the outside of Duffy, the defender brought him down for a penalty.

Evans stepped up for spot-kick duties and placed a right-foot finish into the bottom left corner, sending the keeper the wrong way.

Pompey remained in the ascendancy and Bennett picked out Roberts only for the latter to fluff a left-foot shot, although the linesman’s flag was raised for offside.

There was a scare for the visitors on 21 minutes when Adam Campbell’s cross from the left was glanced by the head of Jon Stead.

But fortunately, for the Blues, it was directed straight into the arms of David Forde from six yards out.

On 28 minutes, Jorge Grant fired in a left-foot shot which Forde saved comfortably low down.

Michael O’Connor collected the first booking of the game on 31 minutes when he clattered Doyle late to leave both on the ground in agony.

Pompey still held their slender lead and Bennett accepted Enda Stevens’ pass before driving a right-foot shot from the edge of the area wide.

O’Connor was forced off on the stroke of half-time after injuring his right leg in a challenge with Roberts. He was replaced by Mark Yeates.

The fourth official indicated four minutes of added time and Forde did superbly to claw away a deep cross from Rob Milsom.

Regardless, the Blues headed in at half-time with the lead – while elsewhere Mansfield had the advantage over Luton.

The Magpies started the second half with Matt Tootle slipping the ball inside to Campbell, who fired in a snapshot from outside the box which flashed just over the bar.

It was level terms on 51 minutes with Grant steering a right-foot volley into the far corner.

The move emanated from Christian Burgess and Doyle going for the same header, the ball falling into the gap for the Magpies midfielder to pounce.

The Blues responded by winning a corner down the left but Carl Baker’s delivery was comfortably taken by Adam Collin.

Cook made his first substitution in the 62nd minute with Conor Chaplin introduced for Roberts.

The visitors needed another breakthrough and Baker showed clever feet inside the box to carve out an opportunity but his right-foot shot was straight at Collin.

On 68 minutes, Baker sent Chaplin down the right and he found Naismith, whose angled left-foot shot was saved by the legs of Collin at the far post.

That was to be Baker’s final contribution as he was replaced by Lowe on the right.

Then Bennett surged down the middle and his fierce right-foot effort from outside the box was brilliantly clawed over by Collin.

Then the moment arrived.

On 77 minutes, Naismith squared the ball to Lowe who cut inside and curled a right-foot shot into the far corner.

Time seemed to stop as Lowe stood there with arms aloft before he was mobbed by his team-mates.

Moments later there were home screams for a penalty after Yeates’ cross appeared to be handled by Burgess as he fell inside the box.

However, there was nothing awarded by referee Graham Salisbury.

The visitors were searching to put the game beyond doubt and Doyle’s ball down the left channel found Chaplin, whose fierce angled half-volley flew narrowly wide.

It was sealed in the 90th minute with players stopping in anticipation of the referee’s whistle for a foul on Bennett.

Pompey continued with the ball pushed through to Lowe, who took his time before calmly slotting it past Collin.

Promotion secured – now League One beckons in the start of the escalation up the Football League.