Pompey 1 AFC Wimbledon 0

Ryan Taylor heads home Pompey's goal. Picture: Joe Pepler
Ryan Taylor heads home Pompey's goal. Picture: Joe Pepler
Conor Chaplin could start againsyt Plymouth. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey v Plymouth: pre-match talking points

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There was no early exit from his grandstand seat for Iain McInnes on this AFC Wimbledon occasion.

Although how he must have been sorely tempted after an abject opening 45 minutes.

Still, he remained, right until the nerve-wracking end, on his feet roaring on the team, urging on the crowd and then embracing his neighbours at the final whistle.

The sense of relief at the securing of a 1-0 victory was massive among all those gathered at Fratton Park.

Then there was an eerie silence which descended after the final player had left the pitch, reflecting the come down following an emotionally-exhausting footballing spectacle.

Pompey had to win, no other result would have been accepted.

Anything less and the league position and fans’ reaction would have been too ugly to contemplate.

That breakthrough came on 52 minutes through Ryan Taylor’s third goal for the club – then that lead had to be maintained.

Wimbledon mobbed the Blues’ goal in the final minutes, wave after wave of attacks, and the ground rocked as that famous old atmosphere so often lacking these days magnificently returned.

Treated to the sight of Richie Barker’s men throwing their bodies in the way in gutsy determination to maintain their slender advantage, it was truly inspirational stuff.

At one point substitute Andy Barcham hurled himself in the way to block an attempted Dons long pass and then scrambled onto his feet to chase the loose ball.

There were cheers when Ricky Holmes appeared from nowhere to fling himself into a sliding interception on the South Stand touchline. As for another substitute, Wes Fogden – he tore up every blade of grass and each grain of sand in a push to close down the opposition.

The finale was nail biting and heart-stopping but how the Fratton roar ripped through the stadium, escalating with every block and every full-blooded challenge.

The players’ desire, heart and fitness have been questioned many times this season.

They couldn’t possibly have been called into question on Saturday.

And watching, breathless with nerves from the directors’ box, was the Blues chairman who left his seat early during the previous fixture between the sides back in November.

McInnes later explained a toilet break beckoned and he watched the remaining minutes of that embarrassing 4-0 thumping from the boardroom.

Nonetheless, he was visibly seething when he made his escape from his position right in front of the Kingsmeadow press box and nine days later Guy Whittingham had been sacked.

His replacement Barker has yet to recreate the attacking and often gung-ho football which defined the Whittingham era just as much as the wretched defending.

Saturday was similarly unpalatable during a woeful first-half played out in awful conditions – both on the soggy floor as well as in the swirling air.

Yet what Barker has introduced is defensive resilience, from the front right to the back, with the excellent pairing of Ben Chorley and Sonny Bradley at the heart of it against the Dons.

Of course, it has come at a cost – with attacking capabilities blunted during the process.

Clearly goals are harder to come by for Pompey these days.

On the flipside, five clean sheets in the last 10 games for a side struggling in 17th in League Two is a highly-impressive statistic.

Had it not been for four minutes of time added on at St James Park last week it would have been an outstanding six in 10 matches – in addition to two more points.

By comparison, Whittingham managed four shut outs in his 21 matches in charge in all competitions this season.

Admittedly, he also achieved many more goal-scoring moments to thrill the supporters – supporters who also criticised the generosity of a porous defence.

In keeping with the current penchant for grinding out results built on a stubborn defence, the visit of the Dons was no different to many games under the Barker reign so far.

The former Crawley boss made it clear from the start that in the necessity of Football League survival the game plan would be based on practicality rather than glorious entertainment.

A short-term measure, we are assured.

Crucially, though, against AFC Wimbledon another three points was obtained and fully deserved on the basis of the effort, application and pure guts displayed by the players.

It was the type of whole-hearted effort Pompey fans demand from their team, yet on too many occasions this season has been criminally lacking.

The opening 45 minutes were bad, kicking against the wind and on an ever-crumbling playing surface, it was painful to watch.

In addition, Neal Ardley’s men could have been two goals up in the opening 10 minutes as they engulfed the hosts from the off.

Danny Hylton was tugged back and clambered over by Marcos Painter bordering on the penalty area, with a free-kick rather than spot-kick called by referee Stuart Attwell.

Then Charlie Wyke had space down the right to fire in a shot which flashed wide of the far post.

Holmes’ shot from distance parried by the keeper and Thery Racon’s wide effort were all Barker’s team managed to muster in response in the same half.

Then on 52 minutes Daniel Alfei swung in a tremendous cross from the right and Taylor rose to head home, sustaining a cut forehead in the process.

Barely seven minutes later the match-winner was forced off with a groin injury and Pompey barely threatened the visitors’ goal afterwards.

Instead they were comfortable in their lead, although Painter did head Will Antwi’s header off the line after a free-kick had been pumped into the box.

Then came the tense finale and a remarkable period of Pompey resistance led by the colossal duo of Chorley and Bradley.

Barker’s men to a player stood up magnificently to fend off the Dons from their penalty area in front of the Fratton End, some even flew through the air to achieve the same objective.

It was rousing, it was brave, it was pure blood-and-thunder football in an attempt to secure a vital win.

An ugly win? Unquestionably – yet in the end it was a riveting spectacle with no Pompey fan leaving early.

And certainly not McInnes.