Plymouth 1 Portsmouth 1: Jordan Cross’ match report
The request for parking information was dismissed with a furrowed brow and a shake of the head from the Plymouth steward.
‘This is the busiest games of the season! You won’t find anywhere to park around here,’ came the incredulous response to hopes of finding a space somewhere in the PL post code two hours before kick-off.
Pompey coming to town is still the biggest league draw in this green corner of Devon then, with no let-up in the Dockyard Derby billing afforded the occasion by the Pigrims media.
There may have been a mellowing in the rivalry in the post-Paul Cook era but there’s still a taste of tension and sense of occasion to this battle of ports, as once again evidenced by the sellout crowd at Home Park and the biggest home turnout of supporters of the campaign.
And you could smell the anticipation in the build-up to the showdown, one the home fans clearly fancied as their in-form side welcomed Kenny Jackett’s faltering high-fliers.
Maximo Park’s Apply Some Pressure appeared more a statement of intent than pre-match entertainment as it boomed out before kick-off.
The ever-pugnacious Derek Adams and and his fast-improving form side were ready to turn up the heat on Pompey, and see if they had the requisite backbone for such a challenge.
A couple of hours later and the response came largely in the affirmative for Kenny Jackett, as his men came through this gut check with a hard-earned point against a foe who’d won five of their last six outings.
They were certainly posed the kind of questions you’d expect a side wobbling in their pursuit of a Championship place to be asked.
After lancing Plymouth with Ben Close’s rapier finish 11 minutes after the restart, though, Pompey went in search of delivering the killer blow to a reeling opponent.
Omar Bogle was presented with the chance to firmly pierce the home side’s resistance before the most graceful of flourishes from Graham Carey changed the tide of battle. Touche.
Pompey’s defence remained sound, however, through the late Pilgrims assault to share the spoils of a to-and-fro conversation.
The first half proved little more than tentative jousting before the main clash began after the break.
The pre-match hooplah was reduced to nothing other than bluster, far-outweighed by the sweeping wind which made any kind of attempts at providing a spectacle a challenge.
Niall Canavan could scarcely use the conditions as an excuse for his air shot towards the end of the half, which was the standout opportunity from Ruben Lameiras' inviting cross.
All Pompey could muster was a hashed effort from Nathan Thompson when given a 34th minute glimpse of goal, and sighters from Bogle and Matt Clarke right at the end of the first stanza - the latter the clearer, as his header was deflected into the arms of Kyle Letheren.
After the phoney war, the velocity of attacks quickened immeasurably after the restart.
And it was Pompey who assumed the ascendancy after a let-off from Freddie Ladapo, with the mesmerising feet of Lameiras the architect for an opening the striker really should’ve gobbled up in the 51st minute.
It proved to be a costly miss and the pre-cursor to the visitor’s best passage of play five minutes later.
The questions are quite rightly being asked of Ronan Curtis’ effectiveness, with his powers clearly waning of late along with those of Jamal Lowe.
But the Irishman had the 1,180 travelling fans in thrall with a flash of brilliance as he advanced and hit a dipping, swerving effort which allowed Letheren to excel with an impressive outstretched left arm to deflect the ball for a corner.
It proved no more than a temporary let-off for Plymouth, with the returning Gareth Evans’ delivery seeing the impressive Close sweep home his maiden league goal in clinical fashion
These port-battle arguments are rarely charted through calm waters, however. Not when there are players like Carey on show.
The Irishman’s prodigious talent has been a key recurring factor in meetings between the two clubs in recent years, and so it once again proved.
It was a moment which was to earn the ire of the visiting dressing room, though, with Pompey adamant the challenge from Thompson on Yann Songo’s was a fair one. Referee Ben Toner thought otherwise.
There was no debate about what followed, with Carey manipulating the ball with the kind of wizardry which is the domain of the Ronaldo and Messis of the football world.
The moment of magic was the pre-cursor for the kind of onslaught Pompey have faced on more than one occasion in recent weeks. On each, Jackett’s side have wilted.
This time, marshalled by a man who delivered an emphatic response to the doubters in Christian Burgess and his ever-impressive defensive partner Clarke, their team stood firm.
And it’s a testament to the steel shown by the visitors that when a finale which quickened the pulse was brought to a close, Plymouth could count Carey’s moment of class as their only shot on goal of the afternoon.
The Irishman and his diminutive Portuguese sidekick Lameiras teased and tormented, but when the final act arrived there was consistently a royal blue body part put on the line to repel. It was reminiscent of stoic defensive work which has been a hallmark of Pompey’s success this term.
But now they desperately need to rediscover their attacking penetration and counter-attacking class which remains AWOL.
Much of that must be attributed to the recent travails of Lowe and Curtis, for so long Pompey’s key attacking threat this term.
With their team heading towards a 60-game season the impact of the rigours of an arduous term, particularly for Curtis after his abridged summer, appear to be weighing heavily.
With the likes of Viv Solomon-Otabor and James Vaughan greedily eyeing a chance to make a mark, the inclusion of the new faces must now become a serious consideration for Jackett.
They were the kind of options referenced in the game’s aftermath, as an imposter replaced the Plymouth manager and Adams spoke of his opposition in glowing terms. He did still manage to pick up a caution for demanding Evans’ dismissal, though...
His opposite preferred to concentrate on his own lot at the end of a scrap which, viewed in isolation, delivered a positive outcome.
You can’t hide from the context of the four previous winless league games, however, and the prospect of dropping another place as Sunderland host Blackpool tomorrow.
It makes the forthcoming five games in 15 days ‘a defining period’ for a manager not prone to bouts of hyperbole. The feeling is it will be exactly that.