Pompey 0 Crewe 1 '“ Neil Allen's match report

Fratton Park's public address system remained tactfully silent.

Sunday, 5th March 2017, 11:03 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:40 am
George Ray scores the winner for Crewe in the 77th minute Picture: Joe Pepler

Certainly not the occasion for grand declarations about the sponsors’ man of the match.

Recipients of the accolade are subsequently asked to visit various corporate lounges to meet supporters.

Considering the players had gone missing on the pitch, successfully locating anyone to carry out the post-match honours would have proven improbable.

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The Blues chose yesterday to go AWOL. Of all the games, of all the stages of the season, Paul Cook’s men went into hiding.

Cowering behind sofas, trembling under beds, phones switched off and fingers plugging ears.

Pompey’s players didn’t bother turning up – much to the disgust of those supporters who did attend Fratton Park.

The previous weekend, an admirable victory at Carlisle had ramped up belief of automatic promotion. Cruelly it seems.

That potential season-defining moment has been followed up by one point from two home matches as those storm clouds of doubt once again gather.

Yet it wasn’t merely defeat to Crewe which stung the Fratton faithful, it was the abject manner in which it occurred.

David Artell’s side had been hammered at relegation rivals Hartlepool four days previously, all goals arriving in the second half.

They deservedly departed Fratton Park with a 1-0 triumph and keeper Ben Garratt having not been asked to save a single shot.

The scoreline would have been more emphatic had it not been for two Enda Stevens clearances off the line.

The Railwaymen headed to a Pompey side with aspirations of breaking into the top three – yet what they encountered was a weak, snivelling opposition.

Cook’s troops were unrecognisable as they dredged up their worst home performance of the campaign.

Such was its limp inadequacy, chants of ‘What the hell was that’ rang out after the final whistle as patience crumbled.

Sections of the Fratton crowd have on occasions proven unduly harsh on their side during the ongoing banishment to the bottom division of the Football League.

However, on this occasion, they were absolutely justified in the level of criticism spat in the team’s direction once Crewe’s victory had been confirmed.

The players’ customary circuit of appreciation descended into a shooting gallery. How they must have longed for the solace of the dressing room.

Still, even then, Cook addressed his side for around 30 minutes once congregated in the South stand confines. It can only be assumed all talk was of the negative variety.

It is often stated in football that clubs win as a team and lose as a team. Well, as a team they let down the supporters against Crewe.

The performance was as lacklustre and soulless as there has been under Cook this season, particularly on home soil. Almost to a man they were culpable.

Scratching around for a man of the match, Enda Stevens’ goal-line blocks and several dangerous first-half crosses should see him excused from facing barbed comments.

Likewise, David Forde’s excellent stop in the opening 60 seconds and dominance of the penalty area deserves credit, while Matt Clarke defended well.

The rest of those players employed, including the substitutes, were listless, unimaginative, lacking drive and so frustratingly ineffectual.

This is a squad which can on Tuesday break into the top three of League Two, a group of players which could still earn promotion.

Unquestionably, they are talented and possess passion for succeeding with the Blues, while there can be no doubts over general fitness or attitude.

The ingredients are there, the results have largely been there, while magnificent supporter backing continues to be there.

However, once again, a tendency to implode has proven to be an infuriating trait failed to be eradicated under Cook’s regime.

The crippling inconsistency has never been so apparent during eight days kick off against Carlisle, taking in Morecambe and ending with Crewe.

That is Pompey in a nutshell, a team pushing for promotion yet struggling to string together effective back-to-back displays.

They provide a compelling, captivating argument for promotion, only to fall silent when next asked to take to the grand stage.

On Saturday they unravelled against a poor Crewe side which blossomed with confidence as the game wore on and upon realisation their opposition had downed their tools.

Make no mistake, Artell’s side thoroughly deserved their victory, demonstrating a workrate and bravery puzzlingly lacking from Pompey’s play.

Yet the Railwaymen, as the table highlights, are not a good League Two side, certainly not of the calibre of Carlisle and Morecambe.

During the opening 45 minutes the visitors struggled to retain the ball, looked panicked in defensive situations and often failed to capitalise on Pompey errors.

Regardless, they cantered to victory at the home of the Blues.

Their manager afterwards spoke of the pride and honour his team displayed in wearing their shirts during their best display under his stewardship.

While justifiable praise for his side, it was also damning on Pompey’s team who had alarmingly choked on the occasion.

During an insipid first half, Crewe threatened at both the start and the end, with Eoin Doyle’s header over the bar from Stevens’ cross sandwiched in-between.

Forde flung himself to his right to keep out Jordan Bowery’s header from Ollie Turton’s cross during the opening 60 seconds.

Then, on 44 minutes, Stevens nodded Ben Nugent’s header off the line following James Jones’ free-kick.

Yet after the break Pompey disintegrated, completing the full 90 minutes without a shot on target.

Stevens had already kept another Crewe attempt from entering the net when, moments later, Callum Cooke’s cross from the left was powerfully headed home by defender George Ray for the game’s decisive moment.

In the aftermath, popular Twitter account @PompeyNewsNow opted to run an alternative man of the match poll in which Fratton end steward Adbul comfortably triumphed.

We await his introduction to supporters in the corporate lounges.