Ben Close ensures another unanimous Portsmouth decision while Gareth Evans again shows nerves of steel
Sports writer Will Rooney assesses the talking points from Pompey’s 5-1 victory over Bradford...
Before the turn of the year, there were numerous occasions when Fratton Park unanimously agreed who was man of the match.
The announcement of Ben Thompson’s name over the PA system came as no surprise after dazzling in the middle of the park.
No wonder there was so much disappointment when he was recalled from his loan spell by Millwall in January.
And there’s no doubt Pompey have missed Thompson ever since.
But against Bradford, there was another universal verdict on who was the best player on the pitch.
Even if the academy graduate hadn’t scored his double, the outcome of Ben Close winning the man-of-the-match award would have been the same.
The Southsea talent was magnificent in the engine room and it was by far his best game in a blue shirt.
Anyone still missing Thompson can take comfort that Close looks like he can fill his boots.
The midfielder didn’t just keep the ball ticking over, he was always looking to play forward and begin a swift move to ensure Pompey’s forwards could utilise their pace and power to full capacity.
In the first half, Close danced past two Bantams players with elegance while having his shirt pulled by Hope Akpan.
His good work would ultimately lead to the corner which won the Blues a penalty to opening the scoring.
Close is clearly high on confidence at the moment – and rightly so.
He’s now netted four goals in his past five games.
Both his efforts against Bradford came inside the area, which demonstrates he’s wanting to get into more dangerous areas.
NERVES OF STEEL
After Omar Bogle’s penalty miss against Barnsley, the Fratton End were fearing a repeat.
When Oli Hawkins was dragged down inside the box, there was only one man who was doing to take the spot-kick.
Penalty duties have been Gareth Evans’ whenever Brett Pitman hasn’t been on the pitch.
Even at the end of previous boss Paul Cook’s reign, the fans’ favourite took responsibility from the spot.
Evans has displayed he’s the man for pressure situations in the past – he scored a penalty in the League Two promotion-winning game at Notts County two years ago.
And with Pompey winless in their past eight League One games, the skipper had a gilt-edged chance to open the scoring against Bradford.
His run up was short, hands on his hips before the referee’s whistle. Nonchalant, to say the least.
But there was nothing casual about his penalty. Evans opted for the top corner and emphatically found it.
No keeper in the world would have kept it out – even if they guessed correctly.
FIRED UP CURTIS
In the pre-match warm-up, you could see Ronan Curtis was raring to go.
The Irishman was clapping and geeing up his team-mates, ensuring they were just as ready as he was.
And from kick-off it became apparent that Curtis was going to wreak havoc on the Bradford defence.
While he didn’t get his name on the score sheet, the winger grabbed himself two assists and was directly involved in another two goals.
Curtis was adamant his shot from Gareth Evans’ corner four minutes before the break crossed the line after being deflected onto the crossbar.
Tom Naylor gleefully tucked home the rebound.
Both of Ben Close’s goals stemmed from left-foot crosses from the former Derry City ace, while he released Lee Brown down the flank to find Jamal Lowe in space to cleverly chest home.
It was the Curtis who ran amok and tormented rearguards before the turn of the year.
It was the Curtis who made his senior breakthrough with the Republic of Ireland.
And if he retains the level of form he did against the Bantams for the rest of the season, the Blues have a great chance of automatic promotion.
Let’s hope the injury which forced Curtis to limp off in stoppage-time doesn’t keep him sidelined.