Exeter 0 Pompey 1: Three things we learnt
Jordan Cross looks back on what we learnt from the 1-0 win at Exeter City on Saturday.
Pompey’s dynamic duo are fast becoming their energisers.
And the buzz for Conor Chaplin and Noel Hunt to start games together is crackling ahead of the next league encounter against Crawley.
The clamour has been growing stronger for Paul Cook to use two strikers.
It reached a crescendo going into the clash with Colchester, with plenty saying they told Cook so when the goals arrived after Hunt and Chaplin’s introduction.
Cook returned to a 4-2-3-1 at Exeter on Saturday, however, with Curtis Main once again leading the line.
Pompey racked up the chances against the Grecians – 18 in total with 10 arriving in the first half alone.
But it’s fair to say keeper Bobby Olejnik wasn’t overly worked across the 90 minutes.
In fact, only Main’s 20-yarder extended him in the first half.
Pompey’s performance for long periods echoed many of late – in terms of penetration.
And that meant frustration for Main, at times, with supply.
Chaplin’s introduction after 64 minutes, followed by Hunt 10 minutes later, had an impact, though.
The teenager almost scored within seconds of his arrival and added vim with Hunt.
The change in shape also made it a more open game, however, with Pompey appearing more vulnerable.
But that won’t stop the noise building to see more of the pair this weekend.
Pompey’s penchant for conceding late goals killed their promotion dream last season.
Paul Cook’s side dropped eight crucial points from winning positions with the efforts they shipped in stoppage-time.
And then came the late, late heartache against Plymouth which robbed them of a place at Wembley.
Of course, one of those costly moments arrived at St James Park against Exeter in March.
Ollie Watkins delivered late for the Grecians in another sickening moment.
And there was a sense it could be a royal blue Groundhog Day as Paul Tisdale’s men turned up the heat on Pompey after Gary Roberts’ 85th-minute penalty.
But they found David Forde in confident and assured form once again, as he saved first from Pierce Sweeney and then Ollie Watkins. And the determination to keep the ball out was epitomised by Michael Doyle’s full-length block to deny Watkins’ drive.
We then had Noel Hunt to thank for making it a comfortable last 90 seconds as he toyed with Exeter defenders by the corner flag and then won a free-kick.
It’s the sort of professionalism Cook has called for and made the difference between one point and three.
Pompey have used four central defensive partnerships in their six games so far.
Christian Burgess and Tom Davies became pairing number four at St James Park against Exeter.
The duo played a major part in the Blues collecting back-to-back league wins.
It was Davies’ first league outing after being partnered by Adam Barton in the EFL Cup loss at Coventry.
The blend and understanding between the centre-halves looked promising.
Davies spoke of how he hasn’t enjoyed looking on from the sidelines across the start to the campaign.
The 24-year-old also feels there is potential in his partnership with Burgess.
That was clear to see on Saturday.
It’s a blend of silk and steel with Davies’ rugged approach chiming well with Burgess’ sleeker style.
All over the pitch, new partnerships are bedding in and developing.
Giving pairings more minutes and time to settle will then have its obvious benefits.
Burgess appears nailed on for one starting spot. Can Davies nail down the other?
Barton and the returning Matt Clarke will have their own thoughts on that.
But, as the arrival from Accrington suggested, he would now be hopeful he’s the man in possession of the shirt when it comes to league action.