Pompey 1 Wycombe 2 – Neil Allen’s match report

Ex-Pompey Academy forward Paris Cowan-Hall, far left, returns to haunt his former employers by opening the scoring in Wycombes 2-1 FA Cup first-round win at Fratton Park      Picture: Joe Pepler

Ex-Pompey Academy forward Paris Cowan-Hall, far left, returns to haunt his former employers by opening the scoring in Wycombes 2-1 FA Cup first-round win at Fratton Park Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey fans welcome the players on to the pitch at Valley Parade in May 2003

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The brakes had been applied to Paul Cook’s customary dressing room dash.

Pompey’s boss had urgent matters to attend to, considerably more worthy than fulfilling his post-match media duties.

There was an inquest to launch, an investigation to head, a hushed squad congregated within the depths of Fratton Park to address.

Rarely is Cook pressed into the necessity of an immediate inquisition, the desire for reflection more preferable following the final whistle.

The press pack is often beaten to the touchline by the manager, such is his usual swiftness in departing the changing room environment.

Saturday was different, however, as the urge to pour over the reasons behind more Pompey disappointment could not be stalled.

Having witnessed a first half he labelled as the worst 45 minutes of his Pompey tenancy, followed by defeat, Cook wanted answers.

The Fratton faithful also crave a resolution. With three successive home defeats, there are those who have lost faith in their manager.

For around 30 minutes, those players who contributed to FA Cup elimination at the hands of Wycombe were on the receiving end of Cook’s thoughts.

He later would not be drawn on what occurred behind closed doors, although was noticeably still seething when he emerged.

With his players instructed not to speak to the media, Cook took sole responsibility for interviews, albeit not keen to linger in chat.

Composed, controlled, even-tempered, yet beneath the public face was maelstrom of rage at what had unfolded at Fratton Park.

Cook is concerned about his team, his own doubts are creeping in.

The relevance of an FA Cup defeat to Pompey’s season can be questioned. Certainly fourth round progression and encouraging performances against Ipswich and Bournemouth last term did little to boost their promotion push.

Let’s not forget, Adam McGurk registered three goals in two games against early round opposition Macclesfield and Accrington Stanley.

However, he failed to score again during the remainder of the campaign and was ushered out of the door to Cambridge United in the summer.

Promotion is the primary objective which overrides all other cup competitions within the Blues’ campaign – and rightly so.

A loss against Wycombe, deserved at that, will not condemn Pompey to a fifth year in the bottom division of the Football League.

Yet the manner of that 2-1 scoreline and the performance of those players adds to worries which have grown since mid-September.

Defensive errors, susceptibility at set-pieces and erratic displays have appeared with increasing frequency, irrespective of personnel, since the 5-1 hammering of Barnet.

On Saturday they were joined by the painful sight of the Blues dominated at Fratton Park by an away opposition.

Not since Oxford United’s visit in January have Cook’s men lost such a duel, the Chairboys outstripping the hosts in terms of possession and shots.

Then there was that first half.

Pompey headed into the fixture buoyed by victory at Cambridge United, a result which demonstrated welcome grit and heart to negotiate the final 29 minutes with 10-men.

The follow-up was a lifeless opening 45 minutes, lacking aggression, energy and desire as Wycombe were allowed a comfortable introduction.

Gareth Ainsworth’s men had been walloped 4-2 on their previous visit in September – upon their return they were handed the run of Fratton Park.

It was frustratingly powder puff from the hosts, reduced to playing safe rather than displaying the brave attacking instinct which is a necessity at Fratton.

Wycombe broke the deadlock on 27 minutes when Michael Harriman’s free-kick from the left was punched against the back of Christian Burgess by David Forde.

In the ensuing scramble, Paris Cowan-Hall, a former Pompey apprentice, headed home from close range in front of the Milton end.

By that stage, Matt Bloomfield had already struck the left-hand post with a shot from the edge of the area.

The half ended with Adebayo Akinfenwa sending a far post header wide from a right-wing corner, when he should have comfortably netted.

The Chairboys deserved to be out of sight by the interval, instead there remained one goal in it, much to the Blues’ good fortune.

Cook had made five changes to the team which impressed with their defensive resilience at the Abbey Stadium, although two were enforced.

Amine Linganzi’s sending off in that fixture and a fifth yellow card of the season for Michael Doyle, deprived Cook of his two holding midfielders for Wycombe’s visit.

Instead Ben Close was handed only a third appearance of the season, partnering Danny Rose, while Noel Hunt was given a chance in place of Conor Chaplin in attack.

Milan Lalkovic replaced Kyle Bennett on the left-hand side of the attacking three, with Gareth Evans pushed up into his favoured role on the right flank in place of Carl Baker.

That allowed Adam Buxton a rare appearance at right-back following an injury-hampered start to life on the south coast.

As it turned out, this revamped Blues side would produce a lacklustre and anonymous first half to soil memories of such a positive performance in the previous outing.

Most of all, the chasm created by Doyle’s absence should demonstrate his continued worth to the side in terms of work-rate, bite and motivation.

Granted, it was a different Pompey display after the break, skipper Gary Roberts setting the tone with two blocks on clearances deep in Wycombe’s own half.

Within two minutes they had the equaliser, Enda Stevens finally getting forward to supply the left-wing cross from Evans to steer home from six-yards out.

It represented the 28-year-old’s first goal of the season as he capitalised on a more advanced role.

Yet the Blues could not build on their improved play, despite Chaplin, Bennett and Baker introduced from the bench to inject late quality.

Then on 84 minutes, Dominic Gape helped the ball back into the penalty area and, with Forde having not returned to his line following an earlier punch, Akinfenwa’s looping header found the net.

It bundled Cook’s men out of the FA Cup yet, more crucially, increased questions over promotion credentials.

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