Pompey 3 Crawley 0 '“ Neil Allen's match report
The heavens opened, goals rained and belief poured in.
Fratton Park may have been saturated to its 118-year foundations, but there was nothing damp about the display over Crawley.
It was 15 days previously when confidence was leaking among sections of the Fratton faithful and Paul Cook’s suitability as manager called into question.
A return of two points from the opening three League Two fixtures had prompted nerves to snap and hysterics to grip.
Yet since victory over Colchester a fortnight ago it is now a treble of triumphs for the Blues in a morale-boosting charge into fourth spot.
A swift turnaround down Fratton way to once again demonstrate how quickly fortunes can change – and the foolishness to write off a season in August.
Firstly came the ugly wins against Colchester and Exeter, late goals securing victories on each occasion.
Then came Saturday’s show of swagger, moments of uplifting brilliance and the perfect implementation of a manager’s game plan.
It was Pompey rediscovering their finest form of this Cook regime as they smothered Crawley to race into a 3-0 lead after 37 minutes, thereby effectively ending the contest.
Not bad from a side whose promotion credentials were dismissed as unrealistic by some of their own barely two weeks earlier.
It last season took Cook until April to register three consecutive league victories, that return has now been equalled at the turn of September.
Whether the commanding display against Crawley was generated through growing confidence, the team and system selection or the natural gelling process remains open to debate.
Regardless, Pompey’s opening 45 minutes were a joy to watch at times.
Operating with a high-tempo, vigorous pressing game and an energy resuscitated courtesy of 10 of the line-up’s midweek omission from Checkatrade Trophy duty, the starting XI were ruthless in their execution.
The visiting back four, encouraged by manager Dermot Drummy to display comfort on the ball and composure in possession, were swamped from the start and reduced to rushing.
Certainly Pompey’s inclination shook keeper Yusuf Mersin, who spent the match curiously finding touch with the ball with every kick.
It led to one wag on social media speculating whether somebody in the North stand had upset the summer recruit on account of he appeared to be aiming the ball in their direction.
The truth was Mersin wilted under Cook’s approach just as much as a hassled and harried back four, which found no time to catch their breath.
The hosts welcomely moved the ball quickly, attacking with pace and an urgency often frustratingly absent, while Cook urged ‘press, press, press’ from the dug-out he had returned to following a two-game ban.
Crawley were not such much knocked out of their stride but never allowed to get into one.
Such is the price visitors to Fratton Park pay for arriving with an attacking blueprint involving utilising your players on the ball.
As the Blues are fully aware, those intent on stubbornly sitting back are the toughest to break down, with creativity then becoming a concern.
In that respect, Drummy’s men played gently into the hosts’ hands – and how they were destroyed from the very first minute of their south-coast stay.
Rightly the home supporters lapped it up to depart Fratton wearing smiles amid the heavy rain which dared to disrupt their pleasant Saturday afternoon.
Pompey followers had been waiting for Cook’s team of last season to spring into life during this latest push for promotion.
Well, it arrived against Crawley in overwhelming fashion and not even referee Ben Toner with his curious yellow card decisions could dislodge the foot off the accelerator.
Nothing was going to disrupt a rampant Pompey, even if they did slow in the second half, their three points having long been assured.
Still, a fourth clean sheet in five league games was never in doubt, while David Forde had just the one shot to deal with, arriving long-distance from Jimmy Smith.
The Reds also mustered just the one corner, both landmarks arriving in the second period of the match.
Heading into the fixture, Cook elected to retain Curtis Main in attack for a third game in a row, despite Michael Smith’s midweek hat-trick.
There was also the temptation to operate with two up front, a tactical alteration to proceedings which had influenced those previous two victories.
Nonetheless, the oft-debated 4-2-3-1 remained in power.
Both decisions were emphatically proven correct as Main netted twice at the Fratton end to register his maiden league goals for the club.
Following a debut penalty at Coventry in the EFL Cup, the summer arrival now has three goals as he seeks to establish himself within the side.
The sole change to the team which won 1-0 at Exeter in the last League Two outing was Gareth Evans in place of Drew Talbot.
Talbot pulled up with a hamstring tear at the end of Thursday’s training session, plunging the Blues into a right-back crisis.
With Adam Buxton nursing an ankle problem and Calvin Davies still to return from an injury sustained at the end of last term, for Cook the cupboard was bare.
Instead he opted to grant Evans his first league appearance of the campaign – in an unfamiliar role to boot.
He responded in typical committed fashion, demonstrating athleticism, fine work-rate and a willingness to attack down that right flank.
Evans’ presence typified the remarkable energy of the Blues, who were handed a ninth-minute lead when Enda Stevens met Milan Lalkovic’s through ball with a first-time cross from the left.
Main did the rest, crashing a first-time shot into the roof of the net from six-yards out to break the deadlock.
Barely three minutes later and Gary Roberts produced an angled left-foot finish after Danny Rose’s persistence dispossessed defender Alex Davey on the edge of his area.
Then, on 37 minutes, Lalkovic’s cross from the left deflected off Mark Connolly and, when the keeper parried, Main was there to net from close range.
A third consecutive league win and suddenly there is sunshine instead of gloom at Pompey.