Pompey 0 Charlton 1: Jordan Cross' match report
Some will be heading off to Marbella. The Caribbean is always a popular choice, too.
One player is off backpacking around Australia, while a member of Kenny Jackett’s coaching staff joked last week he’s got the dream ticket of a holiday without the missus.
Those dates pencilled in on the calendar can now be circled in permanent marker. All the summer sun jaunts in far-flung destinations can now be finalised. Pompey’s season is over.
Shrewsbury boss Paul Hurst could be forgiven for booking his end-of-season break across the dates of the play-offs, as his side have confounded all expectations this term.
The royal blue hope, however, was plans would be inconvenienced by a late-season charge to take the season past May 5 and into extra time.
No one was expecting for it to appear as if the players had decamped for their post-campaign sojourns sometime after 3pm on Saturday, though.
Just when a performance was needed to match the high-stakes occasion, Jackett’s men went missing.
Much had been made of the role Pompey fans could play in generating a repeat of the bearpit which carried the team to success against Wigan at the start of the month.
As the spring sunshine broke through on a crackling afternoon, they weren’t found wanting.
All the signifiers we’ve come to associate with a big late-season occasion were there. Balmy day? Check. Pitch in good nick? Check. Fratton rocking? Big tick.
Out of the early sparring, though, it was Charlton who seized the initiative with a forward-thinking approach Pompey struggled to contain.
By the interval the only relief for supporters was the Londoners weren’t out of sight.
Nicky Ajose’s movement through the left channel in tandem with left winger Tariqe Fosu’s searing pace was causing all manner of problems.
It was the vice-like grip Jake Forster-Caskey and the combative Ahmed Kashi exerted over the middle of the park which really suffocated Pompey, though. Forster-Caskey’s drive and probing, in particular, was the genesis of wave after wave of Addicks attacks.
Lee Bowyer’s uncomplicated 4-4-2 set-up became a 4-2-4 with wingers Ben Reeves and the marauding Fosu advanced in wide areas.
The fact it took until the 33rd minute for Pompey to muster an effort of any note at all, as Jamal Lowe’s tame 25 yarder finished well off target, said it all.
By that time, Forster-Caskey’s 25 yarder had been deflected wide and Thompson’s 21st-minute goal-line clearance had denied the schemer the return his forceful display warranted.
The inevitable, and ultimately defining moment arrived five minutes before the break, as Ajose took advantage of a Blues defence at odds with each other to dispatch his finish past the exposed Luke McGee.
The sea of scarlet shrouding the 2,448 Charlton fans was the perfect metaphor for the mood of the Fratton faithful at the break, as a red mist descended on the Milton End with celebratory smoke bombs fired.
Pompey’s season was ebbing away with a whimper. A meek surrender played out before us.
In fairness, the second half did offer a rallying of sorts, but, in truth, not nearly enough to convince a turnaround was on the cards.
The key moment arrived three minutes after the restart as Brett Pitman blazed over Gareth Evans’ free-kick from the right.
The skipper was the man you wanted the ball to drop to six yards out as he saw the whites of the goal, but, for once, his finish lacked the control and killer instinct which is the sniper’s hallmark.
Pitman’s 88th-minute free-kick offered late hope of the game ending in a draw, which in any event, would’ve been no good to either side. Ben Amos tipped it over, regardless.
That moment arrived after sub Connor Ronan forced Amos into a save with a low effort when well placed with 10 minutes left. The little Wolves man’s shot lacked the conviction to beat the impressive Charlton keeper.
Charlton, though, were too competent to let their advantage slip and threatened to put the game out of sight themselves.
The fact it was a play-off rival putting the lights out on the season offered a jarring context for the majority of the 19,210 supporters who witnessed the occasion. Bowyer’s side provided an insight into the distance needed to travel to become contenders.
The visitors were superior to their opponents in every department.
From keeper Amos to former Blues’ player of the season Jason Pearce muscling around his old Bournemouth pal Pitman.
From the central midfield two who comprehensively came out on top against Pompey’s midfield three, to the advanced wide men.
From the movement and threat of Ajose to the subs like Mark Marshall who pepped up their side’s threat. Charlton looked every inch the top-six team Pompey didn’t.
It almost left a sense of relief the season was put to bed here. Meeting a side like the Addicks with their impetus and verve over two legs could have become a tough watch.
This was an afternoon which was the season in microcosm for Jackett’s men. A fact acknowledged by the manager after the game.
His post-match words came after an uncharacteristically long wait after the final whistle for the Pompey boss to emerge from the bowels of Fratton Park.
Jackett made his injured players leave before addressing the men, who, on this occasion, had come up short.
You could speculate on the tone of those words but those involved have to reflect on an opportunity missed, albeit perhaps a slightly unexpected one given their travails at the start of the year.
The reality, which we’ve all known for some time, is this Pompey team is neither ready or quite good enough to progress further. The same can be said for the club as a whole.
At the season’s outset we asked for a campaign which kept us interested across a period of transition.
The man at the helm and his players kept with the leading pack before pulling up a fortnight from the finish line. For going that long, we’re thankful.
Now eyes begin being cast to a future which will afford context and shape how the past nine months are seen.
Jackett has been given the freedom to mould Pompey in his vision and put the foundations in place for a successful team this term. For owner and manager, alike, the stakes will be higher next season.