Pompey 0 Hartlepool 0 – Neil Allen’s match report

Noel Hunt ends up in the back of the net alongside Trevor Carson as Pompey went in search of the breaktrhough against Hartlepool Picture: Joe Pepler

Noel Hunt ends up in the back of the net alongside Trevor Carson as Pompey went in search of the breaktrhough against Hartlepool Picture: Joe Pepler

Portsmouth Beach Soccer Club

‘Handball worse than Maradona’s goal’ can’t take shine off Portsmouth progress

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And so Fratton Park has toasted the end to 2016.

As a farewell it was disappointingly low key, champagne flutes tossed away in favour of plastic beakers containing tap water.

Raised skywards in acknowledgement at the passing of another year, yet hesitant to predict a more yielding 2017.

Trevor Carson was the unwanted guest, goading others by refusing the leave the party as he noisily munched on Scotch eggs.

The Hartlepool keeper, however, should not accept sole responsibility for the morale-sapping occasion which left the majority of the 17,081 present flat.

This is Pompey, Fratton Park let-downs have been a regular attendee during their ongoing League Two existence.

Home failings have been particularly unpalatable in 2016, persistently unravelling Paul Cook’s promotion schemes.

Saturday represented another such shortfall to dredge up more moody doubts that the forthcoming year will pan out any differently.

The Blues deserved to triumph over Craig Hignett’s side, they warranted victory in an emphatically one-sided contest, no question about that.

The effort was obvious and beyond reproach, no room for shirkers even if several were clearly below-par in the quality of their displays.

The goalless draw was not a poor display from Cook’s men – it was a poor result.

Again.

A familiar headache from earlier in the calendar year which refuses to budge. Time has been no great healer for Pompey followers.

Curiously, home form continues to be an alarming weakness and an ailment their manager has, crucially, been unable to resolve.

In the forthcoming Christmas period, three of their four fixtures are on the road, no doubt a relief for a side which carries on infuriating.

Should do better, can do better, they left 2015 in fourth place with a goalless home draw against Luton.

A year on, the curtain was brought down on Fratton Park with precisely the same outcome in terms of result and League Two positioning.

Cook talks of being a small percentage away from improving sufficiently to break into a top three, an aim which realistically remains in their sights.

However, bridging that brook continues to elude and with it is accompanied by the inability to confidently pinpoint the season’s outcome.

Hartlepool were a side humbled 5-0 at home by Cambridge United the previous weekend and hammered 4-0 at Port Vale a fortnight ago in the FA Cup.

They had failed to collect a point in their last four League Two matches on their extensive travels, while the most recent away victory arrived on October 1 at Grimsby Town.

Yet Hignett’s men possessed enough about them to secure a goalless draw at the Fratton Park, even if they chiefly had Carson to thank.

The same Carson spent 39 games on loan with the Blues during the 2013-14 season, recruited following the obvious failings of John Sullivan and Phil Smith.

He was a reliable member of caretaker boss’ Andy Awford’s side which successfully fought off relegation from the Football League at that campaign’s finale.

Many felt his performances justified a permanent stay following the expiry of his deal with Bury. Instead Paul Jones was recruited.

On Saturday, upon his south coast return, Carson produced a sparkling display in which four notable saves prevented another crushing defeat.

Concern over Gary Roberts’ declining form can be queried, the failure to only put the Pools under intense pressure during mid-way through the second half can be criticised.

However, those four opportunities alone, each thwarted by Carson so superbly, should have been ample to have settled the contest in the Blues’ favour.

Instead the outstanding player on the pitch was the visiting keeper, fittingly, in football terms, excelling against his former employees.

Firstly, there was the tipping over of Gareth Evans’ fierce left-foot shot on the stroke of half-time, although the match officials declined to award a corner, thereby denying the rubberstamping the save deserved.

It was, though, following the introduction of Kal Naismith and Conor Chaplin off the bench on 68 minutes to inject much-needed intensity when Carson really did excel.

On 77 minutes, Naismith delivered a cross from the left met by a powerful far-post header from Michael Smith, with the keeper flinging himself low down to somehow keep out.

On 83 minutes, Michael Doyle lashed a 25-yard left-foot half-volley goalwards, only for Carson to again brilliantly intervene with a low stop.

Next Chaplin rose to connect with a near-post header which the stopper beat out from closest of ranges, with the Fratton end anticipating a dramatic late breakthrough.

Even when Roberts did get the ball past the ex-Blues man late in the first half, Scott Harrison came across to hook his lofted cross off the line, with Smith waiting to convert at the far post.

In contrast, Hartlepool were well-drilled and finely-tuned in their Christmas tree formation, while not adverse to a little timewasting.

Skipper Billy Paynter, in particular, uncovered several different ways to crumple to the floor clutching his face, much to the annoying of home supporters.

David Forde was a spectator, such was the irrelevance of the goalkeeping role in a fixture completely dominated by Cook’s men.

We’ve been here before, of course, the Fratton fear factor which intimidated the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton during those Premier League years no longer exists.

An on-song Carson has contributed to one match – there have been plenty of other examples how opposition now revel the trip.

Meanwhile, Pompey have a promotion campaign to be won, Cook has a job to succeed in. The alternative is unthinkable.

The year of 2016 produced sixth spot, a last-gasp play-off semi-final defeat and plenty of surges and plummets along the way.

Fratton Park failings have continued to handcuff a dead weight to Pompey’s attempted progress.

And it won’t be a Happy New Year unless addressed.

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