Have the wheels come off? Portsmouth history tells us much about promotion panic

They say the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

Wednesday, 30th January 2019, 4:06 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 9:58 pm
Pompey came through a sticky patch before winning Division One in 2003

And, if that’s the case, no one should be getting too despondent about the latest shift in momentum in the League One title race.

The sight of the Luton bench clearance on the final whistle and scenes of jubilation at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday night, spoke of a club believing they’d gained a victory of crucial significance in the battle to reach the Championship.

Those scenes can also act as a motivation for Kenny Jackett’s side over the final 17 games, because there’s little doubt there’s plenty of mileage in the promotion chase yet.

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The five-point gap and 17-game unbeaten run Luton are on in the league are significant numbers, no doubt.

But so are some of the stats unearthed when delving into Pompey’s not-too-distant past.

They, undoubtedly, can provide some significant context amid the cold winter chill felt by the travelling faithful in the wake of defeat in the snow to the Hatters.

In the immediacy of the loss on an occasion ranked as the biggest of the season, it’s easy to feel like the wheels have come off the Blues’ promotion charge. A third league defeat on the bounce sees the worst form of the campaign arrive at a crucial time, after all.

It's a bleak and depressing chapter to the narrative of the season, form which can seem terminal in the maelstrom of losing top spot after nearly four months.

In fairness, the manner of the second-half performance at Luton has helped take the edge off some of the developing panic, particularly after the first-half shellacking taken from Mick Harford’s side. That's been seen in the reaction of supporters.

It was needed, too, because the previous two-and-a-half games offered nothing to cling on to, as Pompey struggled for both attacking threat and the ability to promote forward play.

But the fear of a title tilt falling apart has been real amid the defeats, as the memes of tyres being separated from vehicles began to circulate.

This concern is nothing new, of course.

In fact, in all of the club’s recent league successes we’ve encountered similar road bumps.

The most recent title success in League Two, probably offered the most stark events before the end-of-season glory arrived.

It was two years ago this week, a dark and very bleak cloud descended over Fratton Park following defeat to Exeter.

A 1-0 loss saw some ugly scenes with fans confronting Paul Cook at the front of the South Stand. A heavily-sweating Pompey boss then gave his thoughts after changing his formation when responding to fan pressure to play two strikers.

‘There’s a lot of anger and aggression around the club, both towards myself and the team,’ Cook said afterwards. ‘When you play 4-4-2 that’s what you get.

‘Fans at Portsmouth have a way of dictating what goes on. I keep talking about the changes in formation - be careful what you wish for.’

That loss was one of two periods across the season when three league defeats in four arrived, while a defeat to lowly Crewe at the start of March after being held at home by struggling Morecambe was another depressing episode.

In those moments, the end-of-season celebrations and final-day title success seemed a long, long way off.

It was a similar story at this moment in the season 16 years ago.

It was at that stage Pompey were on a run of just one win in eight Division One games under Harry Redknapp.

Redknapp’s defence mechanism of mentioning the club hadn’t seen success since Jimmy Dickinson was a soundbyte being churned out on a loop as his side’s form hit the buffers.

That was a reaction to his team’s title credentials being doubted and the questions being asked over whether the jitters were firmly setting in.

Those moments have long since been forgotten in favour of memories of promotion being secured with four games remaining, and the giddy joy of title victory at Fratton against Rotherham.

Even going back 32 years to Alan Ball’s Boys of ‘87, the record books show his Gremlins won just two of their final seven games as they stumbled over the line in reaching the top flight.

Perhaps we should note that stat was slightly skewed by most of the players still being drunk for the final-day defeat to Sheffield United at Fratton Park, with Oldham’s loss at Shrewsbury the previous Tuesday getting the mother of all promotion benders started.

These examples, though, all perfectly illustrate what was summed up by Cook when he stated ‘all the pain will be forgotten amid success’. 

Because the common thread travelling through all these difficult moments in successful periods of the club’s recent history, is the tough days are consigned to the waste bins of our minds amid the joy.

And maybe that is worth remembering as we fret about the current Pompey’s league travails.