Paul Cook: Game management the key to Pompey hopes
Paul Cook has called on Pompey to improve their game management as he looks to lead the Blues to Wembley with victory at Plymouth tonight (6pm).
The tie is evenly poised heading into the second leg, following Thursday night’s thrilling 2-2 draw at Fratton Park.
Pompey made a brilliant start to proceedings when Marc McNulty fired them ahead inside the opening three minutes.
But the game was turned on its head before the 20-minute mark as Jamille Matt struck twice for the visitors to put the hosts on the ropes.
Gary Roberts then restored parity from the penalty spot five minutes after the break in a dominant second-half display.
But for Cook, the manner of their first-half collapse was deeply concerning.
He said: ‘We have to manage situations better.
‘It’s been our Achilles heel all season.
‘We don’t manage periods of the game well.
‘We can lose our discipline and that’s from experienced lads.
‘We have the ability to lose all sanity in a game.
‘We were capable of being 3-1 or 4-1 down at half-time.
‘We have to go through the situations as a team and manage it better.
‘You have to have a strong mentality.
‘It’s those little decisions in games which are massively important.’
With the Blues’ natural instincts to take the game to their opponents, Cook accepted there are times when attacking intent must make way for defensive solidity.
He said: ‘There was a spell when Plymouth were in control.
‘That happens –we have to manage that.
‘Teams will have our spell.
‘That happens whenever you play games.
‘Our decision making in that time can be poor in those situations.
‘For example, our full-backs can just bomb on.
‘They have to have a little bit of savvy and say we are having a dodgy five minutes, so stay at home.
‘But our players on the whole have done great this season.’
There were many positives to come from the game against the Pilgrims, though, with Pompey in control of the second half.
Time and time again the Blues surged forward with the visitors put under immense pressure, although the fact they only netted once in a spell of such dominance was a disappointment.
‘I felt we controlled the second half, but we have to create more chances and score more goals,’ said Cook.
‘We got in great situations and got in great areas.
‘If you look at their chances, they had the goals and not much else.’
Having been struck down by a number of injuries towards the end of the season, Cook was forced to name a side deprived of a few first-team regulars.
Central-midfielder Adam Barton again deputised in central defence and, much like the team, after a shaky 10-minute period was largely impressive.
Goalscorer McNulty and Kyle Bennett also returned to action following spells out with injuries to receive plaudits from the boss.
Cook said: ‘The players get on with it.
‘Adam Barton going in at centre-half and Benno coming in last night after being out injured. Marc McNulty the same.
‘There’s a good feel to the players. They enjoy each other’s company and they’ve grown together.
‘As a group they’ve developed together.’
Another newcomer to the side was emergency loan goalkeeper Ryan Allsop, signed from AFC Bournemouth, who enjoyed a mixed debut in a high-pressure game.
Cook added: ‘It’s ridiculously tough. Goalkeepers can be scrutinised so quickly.
‘It’s the most difficult area of the pitch.
‘The lad has come in and had one morning with us. That’s it.
‘Great credit to him for coming in.
‘Now we look forward to having him for the replay.’