Pompey 2 Newport County 1 '“ Neil Allen's match report

The soundtrack accompanying Pompey's late-season charge proclaims not caring how they get there.

Sunday, 26th March 2017, 11:15 am
Updated Saturday, 8th April 2017, 10:28 pm
Michael Doyle, left, rushes to mop up a goalmouth scramble in the Pompey penalty area Picture: Joe Pepler

Well, Pompey are undoubtedly on their way.

And while victory over struggling Newport County was not convincing in parts, it still represented another massive stride towards promotion.

The 2-1 triumph was secured courtesy of two moments of quality, certainly unbefitting the occasion.

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Not that it matters, the confident Blues are reaping consistently positive results at a time when their rivals are faltering alarmingly.

Carlisle no longer occupy the top seven, Luton clutch one win in nine games, while Stevenage drew a blank at Cambridge United.

The cushion has expanded to six points with seven matches remaining, while only leaders Doncaster can better Pompey’s goal difference.

Granted, Saturday’s display may not have been as fluent as many during recent weeks, yet the outcome represented perfection.

The Fratton faithful are desperate to escape the depths of the Football League’s basement – and the players are in the process of delivering.

Irrespective of a nervy final 14 minutes after Alex Samuel reduced the visitors’ deficit, there remains a steely resolve so lacking last term.

Paul Cook’s men have failed to win only once after opening the scoring, that blip arriving in last month’s 1-1 draw with Morecambe.

The late viewing against Newport may have been rather more seat-shiftingly uncomfortable than necessary, but the hosts safely saw out the result.

What’s more, it signalled an increase in advantage over the chasing pack by a further two points.

For Cook, on the occasion of his 100th Pompey fixture, it was victory number 46 during a reign in which he has often come under fire.

Only Harry Redknapp’s first Fratton Park spell can eclipse his record during the last 40 years. Incidentally, Redknapp was the last Blues boss to earn promotion.

Fitting then that Kyle Bennett, the player who netted in Cook’s first match at the helm, should be so pivotal in ensuring the century was marked with a smile.

The winger grabbed two and created the third in the August 2015 victory over Dagenham & Redbridge by a 3-0 margin.

On Saturday, he was among five members of that team to line-up against Newport for Cook’s 100th match, Christian Burgess’ suspension preventing the number from rising to six.

The outcome was a little less comfortable than the opening day of the 2015-16 season underneath the south-coast sunshine, nonetheless it was another rewarding result.

At the heart of it was Bennett and the inspirational Kal Naismith, two returning players to the side following injury.

David Forde, last week voted by League Two media as their goalkeeper of the season, produced some vital late stops and once again dominated aerially.

Carl Baker, with arguably the pass of the campaign, prised open the Newport defence for the opening goal and has maintained his magnificent form.

As for Danny Rose, he has been a revelation since restored to the team following that Crewe debacle.

The Blues were rightly lambasted for that defeat at the start of March, but the reaction which followed has been admirable.

Cook has long lauded the character of his squad and, admittedly, rarely have the Blues dragged out successive abject displays during his tenure.

Well, since the Railwaymen inflicted defeat, the players have responded with four wins in five matches and 12 goals scored.

Pompey require leaders during this promotion run in – and there have been plenty to have stepped up.

Similarly, the list of candidates for The News/Sports Mail is becoming rather more congested, such has been the quality and consistency over the past two months.

Today Pompey sit six points clear of Stevenage and eight points ahead of Luton and Blackpool. Those three clubs represent the closest rivals, yet are dropping increasingly further behind.

Let’s not tempt fate, but the fans are contemplating the outcome, let nobody convince you otherwise.

Amid it all is Michael Eisner’s takeover interest, although none of his family or associates were present at Fratton Park at the weekend.

Although whoever drew up the Tannoy playlist clearly possessed a sense of humour with the Pet Shop Boys’ Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) featuring before the game.

While at half-time, the Fine Young Cannibals’ Good Thing sounded out as supporters lapped up their 1-0 lead.

Not that Saturday’s victory had anything to do with last week’s ownership development, it was all about football, with a crowd of 17,364 in attendance.

Chairman Iain McInnes was as animated as ever in the directors’ box and had every reason to be with four years in League Two edging towards culmination.

Cook made two changes to the side which lost 3-0 at Stevenage, while he also ditched the unfamiliar 3-5-2 system which was at the heart of it.

Bennett and Naismith were back from injury, replacing Noel Hunt and the suspended Burgess, the former dropping to the bench.

A calf injury kept Gary Roberts from sitting among the substitutes, with Jack Whatmough back in the 18-man squad following a hamstring problem.

Ultimately, the defender’s 83rd minute entrance helped secure the win, with every booming header greeted with cheers from the home faithful.

Still, it took until 42 minutes before the Blues seized the lead, prompted by Baker’s marvellous pass.

Picking out Bennett down the centre, the winger then took a touch before slotting the ball underneath Joe Day for his fourth goal in as many games.

Conor Chaplin, who earlier replaced groin-injury victim Eoin Doyle, was the architect for the second.

On 59 minutes, he clipped in a cross from the left which landed straight onto the head of leading scorer Naismith for his 10th goal of the season.

But wait, Forde had already saved magnificently from Marlon Jackson yet, from the resulting corner, Sean Riggs’ cross was headed home by Samuel.

The game transformed, with the hosts dropping deeper in attempts to keep the Exiles at bay. Nervy, tense, taut – Pompey held on, though.

We’re on our way.