Pompey 1 Oldham 2 '“ Neil Allen's match report
An enchanted Joe Gallen had fallen under the Fratton Park spell beneath the dazzling midweek floodlights.
There was vibrancy about his voice and sparkle inhabiting his eyes as he reflected on a special atmosphere against Bristol Rovers.
This was no slick PR drawl, Pompey’s assistant manager had genuinely been captivated by the occasion.
‘It starts from the players – not the fans. The players have to get the fans energised, it’s player-led,’ he gushed on Thursday afternoon.
‘We had a team which looked hungry to play for Portsmouth. And I thought the fans saw that and reacted off that. Fans do like tackles, they do like chasing lost causes, they do like people being aggressive.
‘We have this great audience that watch us and we have to get them up on their feet and excite them.’
Against Oldham, the teamsheet reflected one alteration to the side which defeated the Pirates 3-0, albeit an enforced change.
Yet the starting XI on the pitch was unrecognisable.
Pompey’s play and the atmosphere it generated may have charmed Gallen on Tuesday night, yet Saturday represented the negative.
For everything enrapturing in that previous Fratton Park fixture, the flip side against the struggling Latics was comfortably the worst display of Kenny Jackett’s regime.
There remain deep-seated concerns over consistency – and that was screamingly apparent in two home displays under 96 hours apart.
Gallen, standing in for Jackett in the pre-match address with the media, had called upon the Blues’ players to repeat that Rovers showing. It seems nobody was listening.
What unfurled beneath the temperamental skies was an abject performance largely deprived of heart and fight.
Their opponents collected six yellow cards in their worthy win as they laughed off the perception of League One strugglers portrayed by the table.
In contrast, Stuart O’Keefe’s stoppage-time booking following a spat with Craig Davies was the only demonstration of any devilment within Jackett’s men.
Richie Wellens’ ongoing audition to be permanent Oldham boss produced a 2-1 success infinitely more impressive than the scoreline suggests.
As a consequence, an uncomfortable reaction towards some of the home players developed, in particular the crucially-below par Drew Talbot.
Subsequently a flashpoint between both sets of supporters towards the end of the match ensured it was an ugly day both on and off the pitch for Portsmouth Football Club.
Irrespective of the extent to which those Blues fans situated in the North stand were goaded into reacting, they were scenes not witnessed at Fratton Park for many, many years.
Ultimately, with some supporters gathered in Specks Lane post-match, Oldham’s followers were ushered on a detour in front of the North stand towards an exit on the other side of the ground, for their safety.
Still, those antics should not be allowed to distract from what was an appalling display from the side they had turned up to watch.
It was with a certain inevitability that Eoin Doyle would net as many goals in one appearance on Saturday as he did during a 12-game Pompey loan spell last season.
According to the canny Wellens in the build up, the Preston loanee would not even be attending a potential Fratton reunion due to a muscle injury.
It turned out to be nothing more than a hustle as the Latics’ top scorer was rolled out and negotiated the game’s full duration.
Doyle would register in each half, generously aided by a Pompey defence which would take on a make-shift existence as the game progressed.
Certainly individual mistakes contributed to the downfall of Jackett’s troops, yet they were not the sole reason.
Pompey’s failings should not be pinpointed merely to the back four as Oldham dominated the midfield for long spells, while the hosts struggled to create.
Even when Brett Pitman, legs visibly creaking and body seizing up, diverted Jamal Lowe’s right-wing cross into the net on 90 minutes there was to be no late rally.
With eight minutes of time added on, the Blues headed towards defeat with a whimper rather than staging the barnstorming finale the fans craved.
Still, the importance of the growing injury crisis in the defensive department to the result cannot be underestimated.
A calf injury to Christian Burgess denied him the opportunity of his 100th Pompey outing, so instead Nathan Thompson switched across from right-back and Talbot was recalled.
Considering Jack Whatmough remains sidelined by a knee ligament injury, it remained an obvious choice. However, by 22 minutes the ex-Swindon man had been stretchered off with Pompey losing 1-0.
Doyle had already struck the post in the sixth minute before he broke the deadlock 10 minutes later following good work by Davies.
The powerful striker effortlessly shrugged off the attentions of Talbot and, when his shot was partially blocked by Thompson, Doyle produced a left-foot finish from four yards out.
Not long after, Talbot and Thompson collided during an aerial challenge for the same ball, leaving the latter unconscious and required to be stretchered off.
Talbot slotted in at centre-half alongside Matt Clarke for the remainder of the first half before a reshuffle at the interval.
Despite a poor opening 45 minutes, Pompey’s deficit was only 1-0 to provide hope, while Lowe had struck the post on 38 minutes.
Jackett responded by moving Oli Hawkins back from attack to become Clarke’s third partner of the game – and within two minutes Oldham doubled their advantage.
Hawkins had superbly cut out a diagonal ball from the right threatening to drift over his shoulder, with Talbot then tidying up.
However, the former Chesterfield man’s attempted pass was cut out and the striker calmly clipped the ball over the advancing Luke McGee.
Talbot’s next touch was booed, while there were also jeers when he moments later took a throw-in in front of the North stand.
Jackett afterwards felt the fan reaction was alongside the lines of ‘Drew’, but an element of boos were unmistakable.
A day to forget for Talbot – and a bad afternoon all-round for Pompey.