Cambridge 0 Pompey 1: Extra-time
Jordan Cross looks at three things we learned from Pompey's 1-0 success at Cambridge on Saturday.
Paul Cook’s exclaimed statement said it all as he made his way from the Cambridge tunnel to conduct post-match duties.
‘Yes! We can defend!’ came the cry in response to a second-half rearguard action, which proved largely comfortable for his side.
Both Christian Burgess and Conor Chaplin spoke of the performance being a perfect riposte to the critics.
The questions have also arrived from inside Fratton Park, however, as well as the pubs, clubs, messageboards and social media of Planet Pompey.
The incidents have been well documented. The defensive faults this season listed for all to see.
Sevens goals from set-pieces and a penchant for not dealing with routine and unspectacular balls into the box.
So how heartening it was to see Pompey show they can do the ugly stuff on the back foot.
Time and again, it was Burgess’ head which was on the deliveries from wide areas from the U’s.
The 25-year-old’s talent has given him the ability to cruise through games.
But the suggestion there’s a lapse in concentration in the former Peterborough man has followed him throughout his career.
Unequivocal evidence he can deliver for 90 minutes was forwarded at the Abbey Stadium.
And it was echoed by his side as a defensive unit, as they picked up their sixth clean sheet of the campaign.
It’s been a campaign where dominance of play has often failed to translate into a tangible reward.
So how gladdening it was to see Pompey pick up three points at Cambridge when they weren’t at their best.
In fact, it was probably sweeter to see three points garnered this way than on the back of the free-flowing, high-tempo football Paul Cook’s side can produce.
Without being privy to all their performances this season, you can imagine it being the kind of effort Plymouth Argyle have served up to put them 11 points clear of Cook’s men.
It was stoic. It was dogged. It was unspectacular. And it was just what was needed.
In a season where the stats have told of profligacy when it comes to carving out chances, Pompey won the game after having three shots on goal.
Conor Chaplin’s fifth effort of the campaign arrived via his only opportunity: one chance – one goal.
Even the manner in which it came about was un-Pompeyesque.
It was a distance from an aimless lump forward but Chaplin was picked out with an angled pass from Burgess which travelled at least 50 yards.
A perfectly-timed run between Leon Legge and Brad Halliday allowed the smallest player on the pitch to head home.
It was the ugliest three points of the campaign. And that was just perfect.
THE UCHE & BURGEY SHOW
Christian Burgess’ assessment was emphatic.
Uche Ikpeazu was ‘100 per cent’ one of the toughest strikers he’d ever gone up against.
Burgess was speaking at the end of a gruelling physical battle in which he’d taken the points verdict over the Cambridge striker.
But the Pompey man knew he’d been in one heck of a match-up.
Ikpeazu is fast growing into a cult hero at Cambridge after arriving at the Abbey Stadium this summer.
His hulking 6ft 3in frame tells of the presence he offers to the U’s’ forward line.
The former Watford man also brings the kind of unpredictable skills to the table supporters love.
It’s a bit like Adebayo Akinfenwa channelling Paulo Wanchope.
On two occasions, Ikpeazu decided to deliver a string of keep-ups on his thigh after plucking the ball out of the sky. The crowd lapped it up.
He also had a strong appeal for a first-half penalty not given after tussling with Burgess.
The Pompey man proclaimed his innocence but you often see them given.
Ikpeazu’s danger will go down as one of the most threatening Pompey have faced this season – but it was Burgess who came out on top on the scorecards.