Finally a reaction. At last a positive result, as Pompey’s players justified their oft-questioned billing to pull off a crucial victory.
The Fratton faithful’s patience had strained to breaking point recently after a succession of wretched displays plunged their side closer to the League Two relegation zone.
Yet, another much-changed Richie Barker side had the desired effect against Dagenham & Redbridge yesterday and brought some much-needed festive cheer to the south coast as the Blues secured a valuable 1-0 triumph.
What’s more, they fully deserved it after a comfortable and dominant performance that was brimming with fight, spirit and a gutsy manner so criminally lacking for far too long.
Furthermore, it was the unlikely figure of Romain Padovani who proved the difference against the Daggers, capping his first league start since Mansfield away on August 24 with the match winner on 44 minutes.
Noticeably, new boss Barker has been rotating his squad to ensure almost everyone’s started a match during his three games in charge so far,
Yesterday, Padovani was one of the five introduced to the starting line-up – a call-up which represented his first league appearance, even off the bench, since October 5 during an often head-scratching absence from the first team.
As part of a five-man midfield, he popped up one minute before half-time to head home Ricky Holmes’ right-wing corner to cap an excellent half for the Blues.
In a match of precious few chances, particularly for the visitors, the Frenchman’s goal was decisive enough to inspire Barker’s men to climb the table with a first win in 10 matches in all competitions.
But it was not merely the result and a rare clean sheet which should have delighted Pompey fans.
It was also how it was achieved amid a doggedness and bite which had been alarmingly missing previously.
The type of display Blues followers had been demanding and finally this squad delivered as Barker toasted his maiden victory in charge.
The Pompey boss made five changes to the team who lost so disappointingly at Bristol Rovers the previous match, albeit many of them enforced.
Shaun Cooper (hamstring) and Andy Barcham (thigh) were injury victims of that Memorial Stadium defeat, while Bondz N’Gala was serving a one-match ban.
In addition, out went Johnny Ertl and Ryan Bird – both dropping to the bench as Barker once again re-jigged his starting line-up.
Danny East came in at right-back, Joe Devera replaced N’Gala in the centre of defence, with Thery Racon, Holmes and Padovani recalled into the midfield area.
Accompanying the change in personnel, there was also a formation switch for the return to Fratton Park by the manager in a bid to alter the hosts’ fortunes.
Racon sat in front of the back four, with skipper Simon Ferry and Romain Padovani positioned further in front, and Patrick Agyemang asked to serve as the lone striker.
It was Pompey who dominated possession with some neat football in the early stages, giving no indication of the fragile confidence which currently exists within the squad.
Yet in the ninth minute it was the visitors who had the first attempt on goal, Chris Dickson getting ahead of Devera to plant a six-yard header straight at keeper Trevor Carson following a ball down the middle.
The Blues’ responded with an excellent move down the right through Jed Wallace, who passed the ball inside to Agyemang who then rolled it into the path of the onrushing Padovani.
The midfielder produced a decent strike to threaten the goal, but Luke Howell was there with an excellent flying block to deflect the ball away for a corner and leave the former Monaco player shaking his head in frustration.
In the 18th minute a sublime first-time pass from Ferry put Agyemang clean through.
But the striker’s touch let him down and visiting keeper Chris Lewington came off his line to block before a shot could be mustered.
The ball sprang loose, however, the Pompey player was by then grounded and the Daggers comfortably mopped up the situation and cleared.
Lewington again did well in the 33rd minute.
He clawed away Holmes’ improvised shot on the turn from an almost grounded position which could have produced an unlikely breakthrough.
Pompey were still dominating, and when Agyemang won a free-kick in the 39th minute, Marcos Painter’s delivery picked out Sonny Bradley at the far post.
However, his header was straight at the keeper.
The breakthrough did arrive, though, in the 44th minute when Holmes swung in a corner from the right and Padovani stuck his head on it to register his first Blues goal – albeit via a deflection.
Crucially, Barker’s side had the lead to cap being in complete control of the game and headed in at the interval 1-0 up.
The Daggers made a substitution at the break, with Medy Elito replaced by Lawson D’Ath in midfield.
But Agyemang had the ball in the net on 50 minutes only for the linesman’s flag to rule it out.
However, it was still an impressive finish from the striker after Wallace’s half-volley had deflected to him in what would prove to be an offside position.
Pompey were still comfortable but were forced into two substitutions because of injury concerns, with firstly Ferry and then Painter coming off.
Ertl and Jack Whatmough were the respective replacements.
With full-time approaching, there was a nervy moment for the home fans when D’Ath tumbled inside the box with Ertl nearby, only for the referee to blow for a dive and book the Daggers player.
With five minutes of time added on to negotiate, Padovani rifled a thunderous 30-yarder narrowly over the crossbar but Pompey held on to get that essential win.