Fleetwood 2 Portsmouth 5 '“ Neil Allen's match report

This was not the end of Ben Thompson, yet there remains an overriding feeling the inevitable is imminent.

Sunday, 30th December 2018, 10:10 am
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 11:13 am
Man of the Match Ben Thompson celebrates with Barry Harris following another away victory. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com

The indications are we're witnessing the final Pompey days of the immensely influential midfielder '“ well, for this season at least.

Fleetwood was no swansong, there remain matches to eke out of his loan spell before the impending emotional goodbye.

Yet the 23-year-old produced a display deserving of a fitting finale, a brilliant showing to inspire the Blues to a 5-2 triumph which appeared improbable at the interval.

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Thompson believes he is playing the best football of his career '“ Saturday was the cranking up of the bar considerably higher.

Of course, the Blues are desperate for their talisman to fulfil the season-long loan fixed in August. There exists a modicum of hope that may still be the outcome.

In reality, however, such is Thompson's form and Millwall's Championship plight, a recall mid-way through the arrangement is looming.

Neil Harris' side pulled off a timely 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest on Saturday, positioning themselves two places above the relegation zone.

During the ongoing struggle for survival, the outstanding Fratton Park presence of Thompson has not gone unnoticed, particularly his ever-increasing haul of man-of-the-match accolades.

With Millwall fans also applying pressure on Harris to bring back the life-long Lions supporter, it appears an early departure is inescapable.

Still, at least there's AFC Wimbledon and then Norwich in the FA Cup, a competition he cannot feature for Millwall having already twice appeared for the Blues. For other fixtures, we wait.

No farewell just yet, the Fratton faithful can savour Thompson's talents for a little while longer '“ and bask in performances of the calibre of Saturday's.

Successive defeats would have been unthinkable, ramping up the edginess creeping in among supporters following that Gillingham Boxing Day outcome.

Indeed, should there have been a Pompey loss at Highbury Stadium, the year 2019 would have dawned with Luton residing at League One's summit.

With 51 minutes on the clock at Fleetwood, and a 2-1 deficit, the situation was concerning '“ then arrived the moment which altered the course of the game.

Thompson collected a pass approaching the halfway line and, which characteristic energy and positivity, embarked infield on a surging run.

Dean Marney's sluggish reaction was either ill-timed or designed to be destructive. Whatever the motivation, he clipped the midfielder in full flight to bluntly halt all momentum.

The veteran had already been booked for an unsubtle challenge on a fuming Ronan Curtis in the 33rd minute. With such a mark against his name, the red card was issued by referee Matt Donohue following the Thompson incident.

Boss Joey Barton described the second yellow as '˜soft', yet Marney should not be afforded such a sympathy card for a dreadful miscalculation which lost his team the match.

As demonstrated the previous Saturday against Sunderland, Pompey can ruthlessly operate when faced with 10-men '“ and tore the wilting Fleetwood apart.

Within seven minutes of Marney's self-inflicted exit, the Blues had roared into 3-2 lead, the match transformed.

By the sounding of the final whistle, Jackett's men had emerged as 5-2 winners, securing a three-point advantage at the top of League One entering the new year.

It was a sending off clearly pivotal '“ and another fine example of Thompson's priceless worth to the side.

The Millwall loanee also opened the scoring, with a stunning right-footed strike from outside the area, while a sublime cross-field pass sent Jamal Lowe scurrying away for the Blues' fifth.

The stand-out performer yet again after Jackett had elected to shuffle his midfield at a Fleetwood side with just two league home defeats previously.

Operating with a 4-3-3, the switch involved Ben Close coming in for Gareth Evans amid three changes to the team which lost at Gillingham.

With Oli Hawkins failing a late fitness test on a troublesome ankle, Brett Pitman was handed a first league start since October 6, also resuming the captaincy.

The final alteration was Anton Walkes given a first start in nine league games, replacing hamstring-injury victim Nathan Thompson at right-back, who is likely to be out for a month.

Pitman and Walkes would also net during the landslide of goals following Marney's departure during an absorbing second half.

As for Pompey's bench, Brandon Haunstrup came back into the match-day 18 following an absence of five matches '“ and he was called into left-back action after 19 minutes.

Lee Brown produced a superb piece of covering to deny Wes Burns, only to injure his hamstring in the process, joining Nathan Thompson, Luke McGee and Hawkins on the sidelines.

Then, on 26 minutes, the Blues claimed the lead when Jack Whatmough played a pass into the feet of Pitman and Thompson took over, affording himself a touch before lashing a right-foot shot into the top corner.

For dramatic effect, the ball ricocheted off the underside of the bar before finding the net for the third goal of his impressive Pompey career.

Then followed a burst of two goals in four minutes, ensuring the Cod Army marched into the interval with a 2-1 advantage.

On 39 minutes, Lewie Coyle pulled the ball back from the right and Paddy Madden arrived criminally unmarked to lash it home on the run.

The hosts then took the lead on 43 minutes, with Matt Clarke adjudged to have taken out Madden after the striker had produced a wild shot.

Clarke collected his first booking of the season, while Ched Evans comprehensively converted a penalty the Blues players long disputed.

Then, early in the second half, Marney was given his marching orders, followed by two goals in as many minutes for the league leaders.

When Haunstrup crossed from the left, Curtis took control of the ball at the far post, only to be recklessly bundled over by Ross Wallace. Pitman finished the penalty.

On 58 minutes it was 3-2 to Pompey. Curtis' cross from the left wasn't headed sufficiently clear by Wallace and, when the ball ricocheted off Burns, Walkes swooped to lash a first-time left-footed finish into the top corner.

There was, however, a scare on 79 minutes when Madden's header struck the right-hand post, with substitute James Wallace's follow-up crashing against the left-hand post, before Tom Naylor cleared off the line.

Pompey responded with Lowe twisting and turning inside the box before squeezing a low finish in at the near post to make it 4-2.

And the winger made it 10 for the season when he latched onto Thompson's ball and crashed a right-footed shot into the net with six minutes remaining.

So Pompey head into 2019 as League One leaders '“ but don't expect Ben Thompson to be around beyond the opening weeks of the new year.