Pompey 3 Exeter 2

yan Bird leaps unmarked to head home his second and Pompey's third goal in the 3-2 win over Exeter at Fratton Park on Saturday Picture: Joe Pepler
yan Bird leaps unmarked to head home his second and Pompey's third goal in the 3-2 win over Exeter at Fratton Park on Saturday Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey boss Kenny Jackett. Picture: Joe Pepler

Jackett slams brittle Pompey

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John Marquis fled Fratton Park with his footballing tools of the trade smothered in a bin liner.

The blow had been delivered – effectively a knockout in terms of his Pompey career.

When Guy Whittingham unveiled his team before kick-off against Exeter, the loanee discovered he had lost his starting spot.

He also failed to be included among the seven match-day substitutes.

With that, the visibly-upset Marquis packed up his belongings and bid goodbye to players, coaching staff and those who work in the office.

Politely done, certainly no indication of aggressive confrontations, even if his loan from Millwall is set to be cancelled 15 days early.

That is if the Championship side agree to it from their end.

The 21-year-old certainly has no intention of returning to Fratton Park having walked out shortly before Saturday’s match.

Fitting then that the very striker who hastened Marquis’ early exit was initially the player he was brought in to replace.

Perfect also that Ryan Bird would subsequently net twice on his Football League full debut, having received that morale-boosting selection.

In September, Bird was farmed out to the Hawks to glean more experience from an anticipated greater match-by-match involvement.

On the same day, Marquis arrived from Millwall, a player with Championship goals to his name and regarded as a more finished article at the level Pompey currently find themselves at.

In terms of wages, it was a straight swap – Marquis’ contribution off-set by Bird joining Lee Bradbury’s non-league side.

The former Burnham player would make three appearances – of which one was a start – before an early recall by Pompey, dismayed at his lack of match action.

Now Bird has turned the tables and toppled the forward who had dislodged him from the Blues squad but six weeks ago.

In truth, Marquis’ performances had begun to falter of late, his petulance on at least two occasions, having been substituted, noted within the Fratton dressing room.

For all his immense energy and work-rate, his finishing was erratic, while he had been booked in each of his past four matches.

He had scored twice in his opening three games but, ultimately, never truly convinced during his six weeks. It was destined not to be a long stay.

And typical of proven goalscorers, Bird was there in the right place at the right time to capitalise – in the process kick-starting his Pompey career.

An equaliser after entering as a substitute at Torquay put his foot in the door, and suddenly Bird has his first-team breakthrough.

Marquis, of course, had already gone on Saturday – a clear acknowledgement there was no way back for him, particularly with Jake Jervis reappearing on the scene.

Of course, the impending rubber-stamping of Jervis and the return to fitness of both David Connolly and Tom Craddock has created fierce competition for striking spots.

But, at present, Bird is in control and he capped the moment by bagging two in the 3-2 success over high-flying Exeter.

Not wishing to be harsh, but the 25-year-old should have netted in the fourth minute when he failed to convert Jed Wallace’s low, fizzing cross from the right at the far post.

As it was, Whittingham’s men were left with nothing from their impressive superiority in those opening 25 minutes in which they dominated.

The visitors grew into the match, displaying their passing class, and Matt Grimes also struck the top of the bar with a wickedly-swerving effort.

Then, on the stroke of half-time, Ricky Holmes’ right-footed cross from the left caught the wind and drifted over the head of Grecians keeper Artur Krysiak to break the deadlock.

Come the second half, and it would be the Bird show with two excellently-taken headed goals as he emerged as Pompey’s hero.

The first came on 49 minutes when Yassin Moutaouakil put in a deep cross from the right – and there was the striker at the far post to head it into the ground, the ball bouncing over the keeper.

Exeter players were incensed, however, that Bird’s challenge on Jordan Moore-Taylor in the middle of the pitch during the build-up was not punished by the referee.

Moore-Taylor was still floored when the forward netted, although with the goal allowed to stand, received no medical attention.

Then in the 71st minute, Andy Barcham – on for the disappointing Wallace – created space down the left brilliantly.

He whipped in a cross and Bird made his run across goal to power a fierce header home to put Pompey three goals clear of Paul Tisdale’s side.

Yet, as we all can testify, holding on to leads can be cumbersome for the Blues during this League Two campaign – and so it proved once more.

Within minutes, Danny Coles had headed home Arron Davies’ right-wing corner, although Trevor Carson should have done better.

By that stage, Simon Ferry had already been brought off for Johnny Ertl over fears he may suffer another hamstring injury.

Ertl himself having been dropped to accommodate Thery Racon in a new-look Blues midfield for the occasion.

Next came the entrance of Connolly for Patrick Agyemang – a third and final substitution – as the visitors sensed a remarkable comeback could be on the hands.

In the 84th minute, poor marking at the far post allowed John O’Flynn to net for the Grecians – by then Ricky Holmes had already headed one off the line.

The fourth official’s announcement there was to be six minutes of time added on ramped up those Fratton nerves even more relentlessly for a fascinating finale.

How the Pompey crowd got behind their team during that nail-biting period, too, with chairman Iain McInnes passionately attempting to conduct matters from the directors’ box.

But the hosts hung on to claim the victory – making it 11 points from a potential 15 since the York debacle.

Certainly there is a sense the season has turned with the current group of players Whittingham has assembled.

Soon, Jervis will be available once that Fifa clearance is granted, while Marquis will have departed officially back to Millwall.

In the meantime, though, Bird has netted three times in his past two appearances as he begins to find his feet in the Football League.

Bird is the word.