Lucky Clarke relieved to play part in Pompey title finale
The promotion party could develop into a dinner of champions.
And Matt Clarke’s just grateful to possess an invite for tomorrow’s showcase finish after his Mansfield let-off.
On 48 minutes, the defender was caught in possession by the Stags’ Danny Rose, leaving a clear run on goal.
Yet as Clarke sprawled on the floor, he took down his opponent to end the hosts’ promising opening.
Curiously, referee Lee Swabey sentenced the Blues offender with a yellow card rather than the sending off he warranted.
In agreement with manager Paul Cook, Clarke admits he should have been sent packing from the Field Mill pitch.
Still, it means he is able to line up against Cheltenham tomorrow and aid the Blues’ bid for the League Two title.
And the 20-year-old still remains relieved.
Clarke said: ‘To be honest, I panicked.
‘I saw him running through on goal and that was something I didn’t really want.
‘It was one of those things that happens so quickly and you are lying on the floor and think “What just happened there?”.
‘I was 99-per-cent certain I’d receive a red card, I was walking off. Then the referee brought out the yellow.
‘He must look back at it and think what he’s done there.
‘The referee didn’t say much, he got the yellow out really quickly and then I just had to concentrate on everyone shouting at me!
‘We stuck at it, though, and gave a good defensive performance to come away with that 1-0 victory.
‘There have been a few of those games where we have won after being under pressure and defended, such as at Cambridge United and at home to Luton.’
Heading into the final fixture, Pompey find themselves two points off top spot with a far superior goal difference.
Cook’s men require a Fratton Park victory over a Cheltenham side who secured their League Two safety last weekend.
However, they must rely on Doncaster and Plymouth, who sit above them, failing to win their respective matches.
Leaders Argyle travel to Grimsby, while Doncaster are at a Hartlepool side desperate for a win to stand a chance of remaining in the Football League.
Regardless of the title outcome, Clarke remains proud of the Blues’ promotion-winning campaign.
He added: ‘It can be done and we will be going all out to capture the three points. Then whatever happens, happens.
‘We can’t control what Plymouth and Doncaster do, but at the back of your mind you can’t help but think about taking the title.
‘If it doesn’t happen that shouldn’t detract from our season, it’s not like we’ve been up the top and suddenly dropped to third.
‘Maybe if it was different and we’d been at the top at Christmas and dropped down to the play-offs and then got third, perhaps it would have been a missed opportunity.
‘But we have always been looking for that third-place promotion spot.
‘Taking the title would be a bonus – and highlight how good this last three months of the season have been.’