Pompey 2 Accrington 3

Paul Jones saves Luke Joyce's penalty. Picture: Joe Pepler

Paul Jones saves Luke Joyce's penalty. Picture: Joe Pepler

Tom Davies congratulates Kal Naismith following his goal Picture: Joe Pepler

Cook: Pompey in a good position

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Let’s face it, it’s been a horrible week.

But for all the drama, politics and hoo-hah off the pitch, the beauty of football is there is always the blessed release of 90 minutes of action at the end of it.

And there’s nothing like three points to make everything seem okay again.

Arguably the most testing period of the 20 months of fan ownership would have been put to bed with victory over Accrington Stanley.

And, if there was a perfect sacrificial lamb, it was surely little ol’ Accy.

We’re Pompey, we’re resilient and when the going gets tough this is a club that comes out fighting and can generate irrepressible momentum.

So why, oh why, aren’t things that simple these days?

Andy Awford was one of the few people who could have arrived at the end of last season to instantly tap in and utilise that rousing Pompey fighting spirit.

Channelling Alan Ball and the truth people went to war from this city, seemed so easy back then.

Even Awford, a man who counts his convictions as his biggest strength and weakness, was asking who the next victim was as he breathlessly carried Pompey to League Two safety.

Things just don’t seem that easy at the moment, though.

Awford acknowledges he is a leader of this football club, the man who rouses and revitalises when the energy has been sapped.

There are few managers in the club’s recent history who display better qualities on that front.

But the stress, strain and soul-searching of what has unravelled in the wake of Alan McLoughlin’s departure would wear down the hardiest of souls.

And Fratton Park felt like a confused place on Saturday following the latest off-the-pitch drama.

Everyone cares, everyone’s passionate and everyone’s up for the cause.

But, in the face of an unfathomably poor opening against a side much better than their stereotype suggests, that energy became a negativity rarely seen around these parts.

At 3.15pm – and two goals down to a bright-and-breezy outfit short on financial muscle but high on belief – things hit a low.

Fratton Park booed, vehemently booed, and this is a place that doesn’t do that without good reason.

Portsmouth Football Club feels like it’s going through an identity crisis.

Where’s this season going? Are the right decisions being made? What’s missing and why isn’t a club with all the right assets clicking into gear?

Well, the good news is this is a set-up with all the right attributes to still succeed this season.

This Pompey side aren’t world- beaters. But they are certainly good enough to make the top seven.

Ninety minutes of see-saw football was this campaign in microcosm.

Mistakes, potential, individual quality and the kind of errors which belong at Farlington Marshes were what we witnessed.

It took 45 seconds for the increasingly impressive Marcus Bean to set the tone for the type of forceful display we love around these parts.

Willingness and determination saw the Colchester loanee drive into the box and force Accy keeper Jack Rose into the first, relatively simple, stop of a busy afternoon.

That was supposed to start the narrative for Pompey to brush aside an opponent with eyes on an FA Cup replay with Yeovil on Tuesday as Manchester United lie in wait for the victors.

But our proud club has no God-given right to dismiss teams like this anymore.

And that was what we saw against a foe who lived up to their pre-match billing of 11 men who work on a principle of scoring one more than they concede.

Accy went with a much-maligned lump up front in Matt Crooks.

He was basic and cumbersome but afforded the confident trio of Sean Maguire, John O’Sullivan and Piero Mingoia the freedom to hurt Pompey.

It was reminiscent of the 4-2-3-1 Awford employed to carry this club to safety over last season’s finale.

Defender Rob Atkinson reacted quickest to Luke Joyce’s free-kick after 11 minutes to begin an afternoon of defensive torment for Pompey.

It got worse four minutes later as the dangerous O’Sullivan profited from a half-cleared cross to finish past the exposed Paul Jones.

‘We gave ourselves a mountain to climb,’ admitted a manager who saw his team show the kind of basic mistakes which, quite simply, can’t continue.

But then came around an hour of football across two halves which showed what Pompey are capable of.

A willingness to compete, set a tempo and try to make things happen paid dividends as Awford’s men hauled themselves back into equation, showing a fair degree of spirit along the way.

Man-of-the-match Bean started the revival in a frenetic first 45 minutes with a caressed 20-yard finish.

Craig Westcarr may divide 
opinion when he’s goes missing in games.

But you do fancy him in front of goal and that conviction proved justified with his delicately-lobbed leveller after the half-hour mark.

Pompey’s impetus was supposed to carry them forward to victory from there, especially after Fratton Park 
was brought to life by a sense of injustice seven minutes before the break.

The ever-impressive Matt Fish delivered the kind of last-ditch challenge which showcased the art of hard-but-fair tackling as he flew into O’Sullivan in the box.

But referee Keith Hill saw a danger in his follow through which led to him pointing to the spot, to the fury of the home crowd.

Paul Jones was equal to Joyce’s spot-kick, though, in what felt like a pivotal moment in proceedings.

But for all Pompey’s dominance from that stage, profligate finishing let them down.

Bean, Westcarr and Lee Holmes were among those culpable for spurned chances.

And that proved costly 12 minutes from time in the game’s crucial moment.

Ben Chorley’s lingering on the ball was capitalised on by sub Shay McCartan and Mingoia’s finish was sickingly ruthless. And that, unfortunately, was that.

The leveller never really looked on the cards as the dark winter’s afternoon matched the mood of the home crowd on the final whistle.

So where do we go from here?

Pompey’s season finds itself at a crossroads.

Eight points is now the gap to the play-offs.

Hardly insurmountable over 26 games but a widening chasm.

A sense of direction and unity has to quickly be found to give this club some hope at a pivotal stage of the new era’s development.

See the Fratton faithful’s reaction at the final whistle here.

Watch official highlights of Pompey v Accrington here.

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