The freak moment so costly to Pompey’s promotion dream

Morecambe keeper Barry Roche heads home a 94th-minute equaliser against Pompey  Picture: Joe Pepler

Morecambe keeper Barry Roche heads home a 94th-minute equaliser against Pompey Picture: Joe Pepler

Gary Roberts Picture: Joe Pepler

Roberts: Pompey have handed heat - can title chasers?

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The tannoy announcer marked the historic occasion by dancing none too daintily on my desk.

Thankfully, the neighbouring laptop’s well-being was preserved, even if it was already receiving a finger bashing by way of frantic re-writing.

Morecambe still hurts.

In a campaign punctuated by goals at the death, it may not have been decisive in terms of condemnation to another League Two year.

But that freak occurrence prompted the mislaying of five points in a season when Pompey were short of automatic promotion by seven.

A sliding doors moment for the Fratton faithful to contemplate, once the current state of mourning is over.

For those 479 Blues fans in attendance that night, it was the record-breaker they did not want to be privy to, the grand event they wished not to have been admitted.

In February, the luminous yellow spectre of Barry Roche headed home in the fourth minute of time added on to deny Paul Cook’s side a Globe Arena victory.

It was the first time in Pompey’s 96-year Football League presence that a goalkeeper had netted in one of their fixtures.

Incidentally, the leveller had arrived from Morecambe’s only corner of the match – and their second on-target attempt.

And how the hosts celebrated, especially the man with the mike, whose fancy feet pounded inches from my Dell constant companion.

Not that you could begrudge such unbridled joy for those Shrimps fans whose team had lost the previous three fixtures.

Following that 1-1 draw they collected another 10 points from a possible 51 to finish the season two places above the relegation zone.

As for Pompey, the thumping hangover lingered for the Saturday, with a 1-0 home reverse to Leyton Orient being one of their most ineffective and lifeless displays under Cook.

Players and management later admitted Morecambe had delivered a body punch which still left them reeling for that afternoon.

The heartbreaking circumstances and identity of the scorer had struck hard. Travelling back the following day was a sombre occasion amid widespread player contemplation.

Cook has regularly preached about the necessity of his team responding positively to disappointment – and that was the prime example.

Victory at Morecambe would most likely have improved performance levels sufficiently to earn a win against Orient, albeit ifs and buts.

And in this hypothetical world, applying an additional five points to Pompey’s total would have lifted them into fourth spot and one point off the top three.

Instead, they slipped to seventh – their lowest League Two placing under Cook at that time.

Of course, Roche’s antics did not cost Pompey promotion, it would be hysterical to pinpoint that moment as having dictated a season ending in the Plan B of the play-offs.

It was more a crucial contribution towards the unpalatable outcome.

Last-minute goals also arrived at Exeter, at Fratton Park against Stevenage and on the road at Carlisle, each depriving Cook’s men of three points.

Ultimately, the season would conclude in familiar fashion as Peter Hartley bundled home with his shoulder at the far post after the ball had ricocheted off Enda Stevens.

The clock had passed 91 minutes – even promotion through the play-offs had eluded the Blues.

Nonetheless, Morecambe provided a bloody nose and one of the more critical blows to automatic hopes, albeit through a footballing anomaly the like most will never see again in their lifetime.

There do, however, remain other important reasons why Pompey failed to match Cook’s target of escaping League Two this term.

Whether through injuries, form or ability, the position of goalkeeper has been of constant concern.

Subsequently, Brian Murphy, formerly the manager’s number one with 11 clean sheets in 24 starts, was released having never entirely convinced supporters.

Although the quality of his distribution far exceeded Paul Jones’, there were costly mistakes – and at times when Pompey’s keeper was put under little pressure to deal with the ball.

Even the last-gasp signing of Ryan Allsop, a player of excellent repute following an impressive Wycombe loan spell, made vital errors in his play-off cameos.

Then there is Cook’s season-long reliance on loan strikers, short-term hired help to get Pompey out of the bottom division.

Marc McNulty and Caolan Lavery excelled, Michael Smith was okay yet improving, Jayden Stockley had positive moments, while Conor Wilkinson can be lumped with Theofanis Gekas.

The recruitment of two strikers on a permanent basis is a necessity to create the spine of a team which clearly also requires a new goalkeeper.

Cook must also unearth a remedy for Pompey’s Fratton Park ills, a failing influenced by the regular inability to break teams down.

The hosts did not manage to score in eight of their 23 league matches, five resulting in goalless draws.

In addition, a home tally of 38 goals is swelled considerably by victories over York (6-0), Hartlepool (4-0) and Notts County (4-0).

Cook has already been mulling over the solution, which could well lead to a system change for Fratton Park fixtures as well as personnel turnover.

For all the above weaknesses, however, there remains immeasurable strength which saw a second-highest points return in 23 years.

With a bit of fine-tuning, this already talented squad can continue making massive strides under the right man of the job.

Then perhaps, just perhaps, even a goal-scoring goalkeeper cannot deny a place in League One.

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