Pompey 2 Colchester 0 '“ Neil Allen's match report

They implored for the introduction of two up front, they clamoured for the reintegration of Conor Chaplin into the squad.

Sunday, 21st August 2016, 11:00 am
Gary Roberts scores Pompey's second goal in their 2-0 victory against Colchester Picture: Joe Pepler

The Fratton faithful’s demands were satisfied on both fronts against Colchester United.

And the outcome was a maiden win of the campaign as Pompey’s latest promotion bid welcomely spluttered into life.

With the match dragging towards a stalemate and an on-pitch chase between a plastic bag and a fleeing flag from a corner pole proving a favourable distraction, inspiration was necessary.

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The creativity amid Paul Cook’s side was fading, strangled by retreating opponents content to turn on their heels in the interests of self-preservation.

Quite simply, Colchester rolled out a game plan to eke a Fratton Park point, an approach betraying their placing as second in League Two.

As for a Blues side clutching a meagre two points from their opening three league games, the absence of another victory would have been unpalatable.

Certainly the frustration among a fanbase beginning to fragment could be expected to be considerably cranked up.

Already there are those harshly calling for the manager’s head – a mere 14 days into the new season.

Yet in the 62nd minute – and with the scoreline goalless – Cook initiated his Plan B, in doing so transforming the match.

Chaplin and Noel Hunt were introduced off the bench to lead the front line as the 4-2-3-1 system was scrapped in favour of rolling out a diamond formation.

The positive effects were not instant, this was no miraculous healing of Blues ills which have lingered since last season.

Indeed, the previously meek Colchester were suddenly allowed to enjoy their best spell of the game as they took advantage of the stranglehold released from the centre of midfield.

They even finally summoned David Forde into action in the 70th minute, the keeper flinging himself to his right to keep out Craig Slater’s shot.

The match opened up as the visitors found their voice, Pompey’s domination of the ball sacrificed for a more direct attacking approach.

However, Cook’s revamped team discovered the might to grab two goals in the final 10 minutes courtesy of Gary Roberts, at last breaking down the opposition’s resistance.

And at the heart of it was Chaplin, a player who continues to deliver telling impacts from the bench in his fledgling Pompey career.

A 2-0 result secured and with it the tidal wave of relief swept across Fratton Park.

Victory was essential, not solely to improve on the poor league placing but also placate the rising number of doubters targeting Cook.

There continues to be a deep-seated mistrust in the manager’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the default setting of 4-4-2 far more preferable among many supporters.

It’s an argument Cook has struggled to win, irrespective of a League Two title and two play-off placing while operating with it during the previous three seasons.

Still, Saturday was an occasion when the fans’ wishes were met – and the win was Pompey’s.

A deserved result, albeit unconvincing in parts as the usual woes of failing to turn possession into goals and not taking goal-scoring opportunities were once again evident.

Nonetheless, victory was absolutely essential and for that reason should be embraced.

Cook’s post-match admission that he may have to permanently alter his Fratton Park system to combat defensively-motivated opponents was intriguing.

Such a decision would clearly be welcomed by supporters who have grown tired of watching their team thwarted on home turf.

In the meantime, Pompey’s season is now up and running with a morale-boosting scoreline.

The manager made the one change to the side which suffered defeat at Morecambe in the week, with Michael Smith unsurprisingly jettisoned.

The striker didn’t even make the squad, reflecting a swift fall from grace only three matches into his time as a permanent Pompey player.

It was a decision widely applauded by Blues followers, instead Curtis Main elevated into Saturday’s starting line-up.

Meanwhile, Chaplin found himself back in the match-day 18 following his Globe Arena omission, an action viewed as controversial among many.

Not the starting XI presence many craved, nonetheless the ever-popular teenager was again involved.

Completing the changes was Gareth Evans, making a League Two squad for the first time this season as he strives for match fitness following injury.

Not that Evans was needed, as Cook looked elsewhere along the bench for his tactical changes as he successfully found a way through Colchester.

The first-half panned out in familiar fashion, with the hosts dictating play as John McGreal’s side curiously opted to sit deep.

With two wins and a draw from their opening three matches, Cook’s camp has anticipated more attacking initiative from a team relegated out of League One last term.

Instead it became a battle to break down opposition intent on taking root in their own half and hitting on the counter attack.

As ever, it is an approach which continues to blunt Pompey’s effectiveness and, despite bossing possession during the opening 45 minutes, chances were at a premium.

The Blues’ finest moment occurred on 40 minutes, when Sam Walker produced a superb double save to deny Main and Danny Rose.

Main was then left with the opportunity to finish from six-yards out, only to balloon the ball over.

After the break, and with fans chanting for Chaplin’s introduction, Cook made his crucial switch.

Along with Hunt, the introduction of the pair lifted the crowd, as did the sight of operating with two up front.

It was Roberts who created the breakthrough, though, earning an 80th minute penalty after clumsily bundled over from substitute Drey Wright.

The midfielder finished from the spot – and four minutes later had another.

A marvellous first-time cross-field pass from Chaplin sent him racing though and Roberts lifted the ball over the keeper.

There was still time for an excellent late double save from Forde to preserve his clean sheet.

Yet Pompey had their win – and the Fratton faithful had their told-you-so’s.