Pompey 3 Morecambe 3

As the fog of euphoria began to disperse, the smiles started to drop.

By Neil Allen
Sunday, 23rd August 2015, 2:14 pm
Jayden Stockley heads home the equaliser. Picture: Joe Pepler
Jayden Stockley heads home the equaliser. Picture: Joe Pepler

Realism had begun to set in, the acknowledgement the Great Escape was nothing but a wheelbarrow brimming with fool’s gold.

Granted, Saturday produced a remarkable comeback from Paul Cook’s side, displaying guts and character to be applauded.

Not even being condemned to spend the final 18 minutes of normal time with a numerical disadvantage could prevent Pompey pulling off a 3-3 draw.

Several demoralised Morecambe players crumpled to the Fratton Park turf in agony at the final whistle as the home fans rejoiced.

Then a moment of clarity thunder clapped from above.

For, irrespective of the finale, there was that abysmal first-half showing, a number of below-par individual performances and, most of all, two points dropped at home.

The flip side to a staggering fightback clinched by Jayden Stockley five minutes into time added on.

Certainly, senior pros such as Gary Roberts and Michael Doyle departed Fratton Park shaking their heads rather than skipping away high-fiving all who lined the streets.

Post-match, an air of disappointment was tangible as both teams ended dissatisfied with the result for very different reasons.

Roberts’ mood was distinctly low-key, clearly contrasting to the bubbly figure who spoke to press following a 2-1 triumph at Plymouth Argyle the previous Saturday.

He may have grabbed two goals to instigate the fightback against Morecambe and been crowned the sponsors’ man of the match, yet there were no smiles.

Instead he voiced the recognition that the result and performance on home turf were not fitting for a side with aspirations of promotion.

An attitude to encourage the Fratton faithful, without question, and reassuring that the ambition within this group of players and management remains lofty.

Pompey fans do not need reminding this season’s drive is focused on promotion, something the players have also bought into.

And, in Roberts’ view, there was little to savour from Saturday’s epic battle on a day of shock results across League Two.

His dissatisfaction would have been shared across a number of Pompey fans that evening, particularly those present for that awful first half.

The crowd of 16,052, of which all but 69 were Blues followers, were stunned as the opening 45 minutes unfolded with a bright and talented Morecambe in charge.

From the moment Tom Barkhuizen broke the deadlock on the counter in the 11th minute, Cook’s side struggled for the fluidity demonstrated so impressively in the previous four matches this season.

The defence was rocky, the passing inaccurate and at times reckless, while too many players appeared off-colour.

The archetypal bad day at the office? Perhaps, yet the Shrimps fully warranted their three-goal advantage after 38 minutes as their opponents were reduced to looking very ordinary.

In fairness, it was a mere 45-minute blip from Cook’s side following their highly-encouraging start to the campaign, nonetheless it raised concerns.

It may be harsh to criticise after what subsequently unfolded for the hosts, yet the nagging feeling remains Pompey should have done so much better on such an occasion.

They will certainly face a much stiffer examination at Luton Town next weekend.

Yet a point it was, sealed by a spirited performance from Pompey, who wiped out the three-goal disadvantage in the most dramatic of circumstances.

For too many seasons the various Blues incarnations have lacked heart, belief and ability, yet Cook’s men dug deep, brushing off being down to 10 men in the process.

They demonstrated a different aspect to their make up and, to a large extent, scrambled out of the hole they had themselves contributed to digging.

Certainly, for that they deserve plenty of praise, amid the backdrop of criticism of how they arrived at such a precarious point in the first place.

Cook had named the same side for a fourth successive league game, buoyed by Ben Davies’ availability having been expected to be absent.

The right-back who suffered with a hamstring problem at Crawley retained his place, ensuring it was same again for not only the starting line-up but match-day 18.

However, on 11 minutes it was Morecambe who broke the deadlock when Barkhuizen charged up field following a Pompey corner.

He left Doyle sprawling on the floor before Davies’ attempted tackle ricocheted kindly back into his path and allowed him to finish past Brian Murphy.

It was 2-0 on 25 minutes when Alan Goodall was allowed a free header from a right-wing corner and suddenly the hosts were in complete disarray.

When Alan Fleming connected at the far post with Jamie Devitt’s cross from the right it gave the Shrimps a three-goal lead after only 38 minutes.

The impressive Aaron Wildig also struck the top of the bar with a lob, while dragged another shot wide from inside the penalty area when he should have scored.

Roberts did pull one back three minutes before half-time direct from a free-kick 25 yards out, Barry Roche unable to keep the left-foot shot out at his near post.

It ensured the Blues went in at the break 3-1 down, with all definitely not lost as they prepared for Cook’s pep talk.

Sure enough, a moment of class from Roberts saw him curl home both his and Pompey’s second from just inside the area with a left-foot shot.

However, Enda Stevens clattered into substitute Aaron McGowan while challenging for a high ball, earning him his second yellow and his marching orders.

The Blues’ task had become so much harder, yet they continued to pressurise a retreating Morecambe side as the Fratton faithful roared them on.

Then, five minutes into six minutes of time added on in recognition of the visitors’ time-wasting, substitute Adam Webster crossed from the right.

There was Stockley at the far post, flinging himself at the ball for a diving header to grab the equaliser.

Fratton erupted amid joyous scenes after what had appeared for so long to have been an unlikely point.

And cue the inquests into how this Pompey side had even reached such a low point.