Plymouth 3 Pompey 0

Conor Chaplin. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey boss weighs up best attacking formula

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One wag had joked he feared Pompey’s team would not be back in time from Plymouth to carry out their morning paper rounds.

An exaggeration, clearly. After all, the majority of those on display last night can drive.

Nonetheless, the sentiment could be appreciated by the long-suffering fans.

At Home Park, the average age of the Blues’ starting line-up was a youthful 19.9 years. That’s even with 35-year-old Ashley Westwood present.

In total, nine teenagers were on display at the start, of which a staggering seven were making their senior debuts.

Westwood and keeper Simon Eastwood were also making their bows, albeit in a Pompey shirt – having already played first-team football with previous clubs.

The veteran Westwood himself lasted just 34 minutes, though, replaced by 17-year-old Jack Maloney for another debut.

So much for the Portpin era which was supposed to get Pompey ‘back to where they belong’.

Plenty were giving them a third chance, the benefit of the doubt after their previous spells at Fratton Park. Well, they seem to have blown that now.

That was reflected by the sizeable away following who at times sang ‘if you all hate Chainrai clap your hands’, with plenty joining in.

The Pompey Supporters’ Trust is now being increasingly perceived among the Fratton faithful as the more viable option.

Encouragingly, talks remain ongoing with Trevor Birch, while Portpin slowly appear to be fading from the scene.

In the meantime, the dragging of the collective feet of Balram Chainrai and Levi Kushnir condemned Appleton to fielding a squad of teenagers in addition to first-team coach Westwood and keeper Eastwood.

With the league campaign looming on Saturday against Bournemouth, the only players at Appleton’s display featured last night.

And didn’t they do him proud.

Forget the 3-0 result – a scoreline made more emphatic than it warranted with two goals in the final three minutes.

The youngsters rallied in these tough times, showing remarkable confidence, composure and a fight which has become symbolic of the fans. Nerveless, or so it seemed from the comfort of the stands, they stood up to their task magnificently as the widely-expected hammering never materialised.

To a man these teenagers ran themselves into the ground in the name of the football club many of them have been with since the age of eight.

In the second half, especially, they grew in front of the eyes of the appreciative 753 away fans, adding attacking threat to their game.

Ultimately, it took a stunning Johnny Gorman strike on the stroke of half-time and two late goals at a rain-strewn Home Park to decide the tie.

Yet the youngsters could be delighted with their debuts and got the season off to a surprisingly upbeat start considering the circumstances.

Of those named in the starting line-up, just Adam Webster and Ashley Harris had represented Pompey before.

Even then, of their collective eight appearances chalked up last season, just two had come in the form of starts.

Eastwood, who signed on non-contract terms just 24 hours earlier, was named as captain – his first game since leaving non-league Halifax at the end of last season.

He almost gifted Plymouth the lead in as early as the second minute.

Gorman’s free-kick from the right flew straight at Eastwood but he let it slip through his hands and somehow it squirmed over the bar.

That was a real let off for the young side but in the 13th minute the former Huddersfield man brilliantly tipped over Matt Lecointe’s overhead kick from point-blank range.

From the resulting corner, Alex Grant was on hand to hack the ball clear off the line and the visitors breathed again.

It was Harris who would have the first attempt on goal for the Blues, firing in a shot from the right which skidded past the far post.

Plymouth were dominating, though, and when Gorman pulled the ball back from the left, Nick Chadwick had the goal in his sights – only for a superb block from Butler to thwart him.

Pompey received a massive blow in the 30th minute when their only experienced player in Westwood fell to the floor in agony.

The ex-Bradford City defender had won a header against Paul Wotton, yet appeared to land awkwardly and four minutes later was substituted.

That saw Ryde youngster Maloney enter the field of play, joining Webster as a 17-year-old in Pompey colours.

Appleton’s men continued to hold firm and began to comfortably keep the Pilgrims at bay, restricting them to long-range efforts.

Then, in first-half stoppage-time, Gorman struck a magnificent goal to send them in at the break one down.

Pompey started the second half much brighter, and in the 51st minute Jake Cole had to superbly tip over Maloney’s fierce-angled drive.

Yet it was Plymouth who came closest to scoring next.

In the 65th minute Conor Hourihane clipped in a delightful ball which Chadwick lobbed over Eastwood, but it bounced the wrong side of the post.

In the 86th minute Plymouth did double their lead.

Maxime Blanchard’s corner was headed home by substitute Cowan-Hall inside a crowded penalty area to put the result beyond doubt.

Barely a minute later Chadwick made it three with a powerful finish which completed a harsh finale.

Nonetheless, at the final whistle the Pompey fans sang ‘we are proud you’ to their young side. And rightly so.