Pompey 2-0 Northampton

Craig Westcarr thumps home Pompey's second goal. Picture: Joe Pepler
Craig Westcarr thumps home Pompey's second goal. Picture: Joe Pepler
Dion Donohue. Picture: Colin Farmery

New boy’s bitter-sweet Pompey experience

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Pompey secured their second home win in three days as their promising start to the new season continued with a comprehensive 2-0 win over Northampton Town.

Jed Wallace opened the scoring and Craig Westcarr notched his first for the Blues.

That saw boss Andy Awford extend his unbeaten run to 11 games since taking charge last term and gave Pompey a decent platform from their first three fixtures of the season, with seven points from a possible nine.

Awford will continue to play down any talk of a promotion challenge at this embryonic stage of the season.

However, Pompey turned in a fine first-half display and then controlled the game after the break to clinch a well-deserved win with a professional display.

Awford flummoxed just about everyone – perhaps even his Northampton counterpart – with a team selection few would have predicted before kick-off.

Jack Whatmough, Danny Hollands and Miles Storey – three of the stand-out performers against Cambridge – were dropped to the bench, while Adam Webster was suspended following his red card.

Ben Chorley, Joe Devera, Ricky Holmes and Westcarr were drafted in, while Andy Barcham returned to the bench, having missed out on making the 18-man squad at the weekend.

The Blues boss has preached the need for a group mentality and has insisted that everyone in his squad will be seen as part of his plans over the course of the campaign.

If anyone doubted him, he will point to his selection as evidence he is keen to keep everyone involved, rather than having a best 11 and only using the rest of the squad in emergencies.

There was also a different feel to the fixture than the previous two meetings between the sides.

Back in December of last year, a tedious 0-0 draw between the sides at Fratton Park left Richie Barker satisfied with a point and a clean sheet against their rock-bottom opponents who looked destined for non-league football.

But in April, Pompey secured their survival ahead of the 1-0 win at Sixfields and appeared to push the Cobblers towards the trap door, only for Chris Wilder’s side to make a miraculous escape.

This time around though, it was a clash between two teams who have both enjoyed positive starts to the campaign and who many have tipped to challenge for the promotion places this season.

Northampton looked a threat in the early stages, while Pompey took time to settle with some loose passes interrupting their fluency.

It was the visitors who threatened with the first real chance of the game as Devera did well to intercept a dangerous diagonal ball in.

But Paul Robinson then failed to deal with a routine clearance to allow Ivan Toney a free shot at goal, which he blazed way over the crossbar when he should have at least hit the target.

Pompey, meanwhile, were starting to look more comfortable as the half wore on and a nice piece of interplay between Ryan Taylor and Westcarr nearly opened up the Northampton defence after a slick move.

But neither goalkeeper was given any serious work to do, other than dealing with some crosses, as the game reached the midway point in the opening period.

Northampton carved out a decent opportunity when Ricky Ravenhill flashed a header narrowly wide from Evan Horwood’s inviting cross.

But it was Pompey who grabbed the lead with their first shot on target as Wallace produced a cracking finish to a swift counter-attack.

Ben Chorley clipped a ball down the left channel and Nicky Shorey timed his sliding challenge superbly to keep the ball in and take his opponent out of the game on the touchline.

The former England man showed his trademark composure to assess his options before opting for a simple cut-back to Wallace who took a touch and then buried a low, angled drive to give Matt Duke absolutely no chance.

The goal gave Pompey an obvious lift as they twice went close to extending the lead soon afterwards.

First, Holmes read a pass out of defence and raced away to fire a powerful drive goalwards that Duke beat away.

And Shorey, revelling in his more advanced role, latched on to a measured through ball from James Dunne but saw his cross hacked away by Lee Collins when he would have been better served putting his laces through the ball and going for goal.

Pompey, however, didn’t have long to wait for their second goal as Westcarr showed exactly why Awford brought him to the club with a thumping finish to make it 2-0.

Nigel Atangana, who was enjoying an excellent half once again, picked up possession and sliced open the Northampton defence as the striker timed his run perfectly to collect his pass and then opened up the angle to drill past the helpless Duke.

It was the kind of finish associated with a goalscorer who backs himself to take those sort of chances and he made absolutely no mistake in opening his account for the club.

It ensured Pompey hit the interval in a commanding position and to a rapturous reception from a buoyant Fratton Park crowd.

Far from sitting back on their lead after the break, Pompey went searching for a third to kill the game off as Northampton attempted to find a way back into the match.

John-Joe O’Toole tried his luck from long range but saw his shot deflected way over the crossbar as Pompey just started to give some encouragement to their opponents with a few sloppy passes creeping in.

But the Blues were well aware that they didn’t need to chase the game and could keep possession and stay tight at the back to stay on course for the victory.

Awford made his first change on 71 minutes as he brought Hollands on for Holmes.

Miles Storey joined the fray soon afterwards, replacing Westcarr and the substitute made an immediate impact with a burst forward before releasing Atangana, who saw his curling shot smack back off the outside of the post.

Atangana’s performance deserved a goal and that will surely come before too long as he continues to make the transition from non-league football to League Two look very easy.

Dubbed the non-league Yaya Toure last term with Hawks, those comparisons may be stretching things just a touch.

But he underlined his huge potential with another impressive performance that has already made him a firm favourite with Blues fans.

He almost laid on a third goal in the dying minutes with a clever pass with the outside of his boot as Storey bravely went in to head home from close range, only to see the effort dribble past the post as the goalkeeper rushed out.

The second half did not quite carry quite the same thrills as the first half but nobody in blue was complaining at the final whistle.

Pompey simply got the job done in the first 45 minutes and had no need to do anything silly to ensure their encouraging start to the season continued.