Pompey 4 Grimsby 0: Neil Allen's match report
There's a swagger, a strut and a bravado '“ Pompey look every inch a promotion side.
If more evidence of Paul Cook’s side’s credentials was required, then last night it was delivered emphatically.
Successive victories on the Blues’ travels had lifted them into the top three, displays as convincing as the scorelines suggested.
It was time to produce a persuasive performance on a bigger stage, namely played out in front of a crowd of 16,492 at Fratton Park.
And how Pompey rose to the challenge magnificently.
Memories of Crewe continue to be buried as a second-successive 4-0 triumph strengthened the hold on the promotion spots.
Granted, Cook’s men creaked in the opening 12 minutes against Grimsby as Zak Mills struck a post and David Forde finger-tipped Akwasi Asante’s shot over the bar.
Yet once Kyle Bennett’s shot wasa deflected past James McKeown, they seized control of the fixture’s destiny with delicious confidence.
Dripping with class and possessing a brutal cutting edge, they remain unrecognisable from their previous Fratton Park outing.
In the process, there is a smell of promotion in the air. Thankfully.
Danny Rose’s deflected shot increased the lead and when Carl Baker netted it was 3-0 at the break.
Within 30 seconds of the second period starting, Kal Naismith established himself as Pompey’s overall top scorer when he slotted home after McKeown had saved from Baker.
Effectively game over for the hosts, while maintaining concentration to register a third consecutive clean sheet.
How the home fans revelled, the Fratton End at one time conducting songs from each end of the ground, including the 527 away followers.
As for the team, they now stand four points off second-placed Plymouth Argyle and, most crucial of all, six points clear of fourth spot.
Cook was able to retain the side which won at Crawley and Colchester on their travels since their last Fratton Park outing.
There were a couple of injury doubts in the run up to Grimsby’s visit, yet both cleared up to allow an unchanged starting line-up.
The bench also remained intact, with Jack Whatmough and Curtis Main presently the only occupants of the treatment room.
Meanwhile, the Mariners named former Pompey right-back Ben Davies in their side.
The veteran had lost his place to Mills, yet Marcus Bignot elected to make him one of five changes to the team which won 3-0 at Leyton Orient.
It was a first start in seven matches for Davies, who previously lined-up in last month’s 5-0 defeat at Crewe.
Among the other alterations were Jamey Osborne, Akwasi Asante, Luke Maxwell and Scott Vernon, with Calum Dyson, Brandon Comley, Tom Bolarinwa, Craig Disley and Dominic Vose all dropping to the bench.
When the match kicked off, there was an early rendition of the ‘on our way’ song, coinciding with an early Pompey opportunity.
Baker twisted and turned inside the penalty area before firing a left-foot shot narrowly over the bar and into the Milton End.
There was a scare at the other end on five minutes when Matt Clarke slipped as he attempted a header and Asante’s shot was deflected for a corner.
Then, moments later, Mills rattled in a right-foot shot from 30-yards which crashed against Forde’s left-hand post.
In a lively opening, Baker’s superb diagonal pass released Naismith down the left and he cut inside to fire off a shot straight at McKeown.
On 10 minutes, Forde’s poor goal-kick out of his hands gifted possession to Grimsby, who then attacked through Asante.
The striker curled in a right-foot shot from just inside the area, which Forde did magnificently to tip over one-handed, definitely making amends for his earlier mistake.
Yet the deadlock was broken in Pompey’s favour on 12 minutes through some good fortune.
Bennett cut inside from the left and drilled in a shot which took a wicked deflection and looped over keeper McKeown.
In the Blues’ next attack, Naismith drilled in a shot which also cannoned off a Grimsby player, only this time dropping past the far post for a corner.
The hosts were now dominant and, on 25 minutes, Gareth Evans’ deep cross from the right was met with a Naismith far-post header across goal which bounced just wide.
Pompey doubled their lead on 35 minutes, through another generous deflection.
The build-up was excellent, Evans charging across the edge of the area to prod the ball to Bennett, who dummied, allowing Rose to pick it up and fire home a shot which flicked off a visiting player.
Still the hosts pushed forward and a sublime Baker pass put Naismith through down the right and his low cross nicked off a defender to fall behind the lurking Eoin Doyle.
Cook was forced into a substitution on 45 minutes, with Bennett limping off to be replaced by Gary Roberts.
In first-half stoppage-time, Baker etched his name on the scoresheet, receiving Evans’ pass from the right and firing home a high right-foot shot at the near post.
There were no changes at the break – and within 30 seconds of the restart the hosts were four up.
Michael Doyle slipped the ball inside to Baker, who was allowed to stride forward and unleash a right-foot shot from 25 yards.
McKeown parried but Naismith followed up with a first-time left-foot finish into the empty net.
In a rare attack, Grimsby won a corner down the left after Christian Burgess miskicked but Danny Collins headed wide.
There was a double substitution for the visitors on 57 minutes with Osborne and Sam Jones replaced by Comley and Disley.
In the 63rd minute, Evans cut in from the right and drilled in a left-foot shot which McKeown comfortably gathered. Another injury, this time to Naismith after an outrageous piece of skill involving flicking the ball over his head, saw Jamal Lowe introduced in the 68th minute.
McKeown was then drawn into another save when Baker crashed in a 25-yard shot which had the keeper pushing the ball behind for a corner.
No more goals followed, not that it truly mattered.
Another victory and another stride towards promotion was delivered.