Cool Pompey heads needed as battle recommences

Gary Roberts lit the touchpaper with the quote of the weekend.

Thursday, 13th October 2016, 11:00 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 5:42 pm
Christian Burgess trudges off the Home Park pitch as Plymouth celebrate their League Two play-off semi-final victory last season. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey were revelling in a much-needed success at Leyton Orient – a result significant enough for Paul Cook to brand one of the biggest of his time at Pompey.

Yet, even in the aftermath of a rare victory on the road, there were other things on the mind of the Blues’ talisman.

You see, Roberts has been around long enough to have his say when he wants to – and that he did as he cast a tantalising glance to Home Park on Saturday.

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‘They don’t like us – and we don’t like them,’ said the 32-year-old when giving his assessment of Pilgrims-Pompey relations.

It was clear enough from that verdict, Roberts hadn’t emerged the new-age FA school of media training.

Because sanitised quotes these weren’t, a world away from the anaemic platitudes so regularly dished out today.

Hardly an exercise in diplomacy, either, but then Roberts didn’t seem too bothered about extending an olive branch between naval ports.

What is evident is there’s clearly a sense of unfinished business and fire burning in the player.

And it’s a sentiment which will echo in those team-mates who went into play-off battle in May.

Six of the men who started those two semi-final duels are likely to be involved as acquaintances are renewed this weekend. Five named on the bench are still around.

They will remember how a pulsating pace was set as their side dominated possession and racked up 17 shots to eight in the 2-2 draw at Fratton Park.

They will recall feeling indignant as Jamille Matt pushed his head into Michael Doyle and was allowed to remain on the pitch.

And they will be reminded how Pompey were left on their knees going into the return three days later.

Cook has never mentioned how he was forced to call off training going into the second leg, as players dropped like flies.

There was never any noise about the patched-up nature of his side, with the likes of Danny Hollands playing the game with torn ligaments.

Then came Carl McHugh’s horrible lunge on Gareth Evans, which left him with knee and ankle ligament damage.

Cook rolling out these factors would only come off with him sounding like a sore loser, so he sensibly chose not to as Pompey were ultimately well beaten.

But, from the directors’ box to the dressing room, a return to Home Park is going to be an eerie groundhog day.

From a sea of green engulfing the pitch in celebration, and many, inevitably, thumbing their noses at away fans to the board having to be entertained by their joyous counterparts in the wake of heartbreaking defeat.

Those moments will be to the fore again come Saturday and the emotions Cook felt are certain to be awoken.

After affording his congratulations to the victors, the Pompey boss eschewed press duties as he made his way to the coach back then.

His reason for not giving fans his thoughts? Cook admitted he wouldn’t have been able to do so without breaking down.

So that gives an insight into the strength of emotion coursing around the Blues camp.

It’s one they have to be very careful to channel correctly when battle recommences.

Because when the emotions become intense they can also become combustible, as we’ve seen with Cook’s Pompey before.

Defeat to Plymouth will see Derek Adams’ side open up an 11-point gap and, even at this early stage of the campaign, that’s a huge chasm.

For all the dockyard derby usage which irritatingly surfaces, talk of adversaries reuniting and incendiary recent history that needs to be remembered.

We’ve seen the hot heads here before. The feeling is it’s the cool ones which will be celebrating Saturday tea-time.