Is Pompey promotion bandwagon accelerating or about to hit the skids?

Carl Baker scored for Pompey in their season-opening 1-1 draw with Carlisle back in August     Picture: Joe PeplerCarl Baker scored for Pompey in their season-opening 1-1 draw with Carlisle back in August     Picture: Joe Pepler
Carl Baker scored for Pompey in their season-opening 1-1 draw with Carlisle back in August Picture: Joe Pepler
There's a school of thought a match isn't a must-win fixture unless it's decisive.

It doesn’t feel like that going to Carlisle.

Just try underselling the significance of the long trek to Brunton Park this Saturday for the 1,200 hardy Pompey fans making the journey to Cumbria.

Unless relegation or promotion issues are concluded by the game’s outcome, by it’s very definition, a fixture can’t be ‘must win’. Or so the argument goes.

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But when a clash will go a long way to shaping a season’s destination, as will be the case this weekend, the boundaries become blurred.

And when a showdown could be seismic in terms of impetus for both sides, the reward stretches beyond points return.

If it’s not must win then it’s most definitely a must-not lose.

The rhetoric has been hard-boiled from Carlisle boss, Keith Curle in the build-up to the game.

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There are ‘no excuses’ for his side’s fans not to turn up in numbers and back a side who’ve been sat in one of the box seats for automatic promotion since October.

‘Portsmouth are going to bring a lot of fans and they are noisy. Their supporters are noisy but they won’t outshout us,’ Curle said ahead of the game.

Sounds like fighting talk.

Cook, for his part, hasn’t been shy of playing up the occasion. The hope from him was it’d be a buoyant Pompey travelling north.

‘It’s like going to Benidorm on a stag do!’ Cook grinned last week. ‘That’s what it is like. We have to ride that.’

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Pompey, of course, go into the game in upwardly mobile form after picking up seven points from nine.

Assistant manager, Leam Richardson, also highlighted it’s now three games without conceding in open play for Pompey, after the deflected winner for Wycombe.

So, it’s a Pompey side displaying more resolute qualities at present – traits Curle feels are echoed by his men. His belief is Carlisle now aren’t displaying the soft underbelly of years gone by.

After a horrific winless January where the return was three draws and two defeats, Carlisle have recovered to win three of their last four.

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It’ll be two teams going at it in confident mood then, with hopes high of a spectacle to match the team’s ambitions.

After the bleak viewing at The Hive last weekend, Pompey legend Alan Knight indicated he was pretty upbeat at the prospect of a match easier on the eyes.

That sentiment was borne out of the thought there will be an onus on the high-flying side to play on the front foot at home.

With Pompey’s past record for dismantling teams who want to stand toe-to-toe with them, it may not be quite that clear, however.

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Still, it’s surely Carlisle who are the side in Cook’s sights when he talks about topping an end-of-season mini-league.

A win would put Pompey three points behind Carlisle with a game in hand and superior goal difference.

Luton are also lurking with intent, while the sides below Pompey struggle for a modicum of consistency at present. Carlisle were the only team in the top 11 to win last weekend.

If Cook’s side were to remain on 52 points with 14 to go, the size of the task ahead to get the 30-plus points required becomes monumental.

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Or put another way, 10 wins and two draws to get to the 84-point total some in and around the club think it will take.

So, the battle lines are drawn.

Victory and the Pompey promotion bandwagon accelerates from a trundle to full throttle. Defeat and it’s a decelerating uphill battle to make the top three.