Pompey 6 Cheltenham 1 '“ Neil Allen's match report

Life does not permit perfect endings.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 7th May 2017, 10:14 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 6:58 pm
The Pompey players celebrate their title success Picture: Joe Pepler
The Pompey players celebrate their title success Picture: Joe Pepler

Such a misty-eyed romantic notion rolled out on sickly-sweet celluloid to satisfy gushing consumer sentiments.

In reality, grand adventures never reach a flawless conclusion.

Trust Pompey to buck the trend.

This is the club saved by its supporters, irrespective of the sneers from football’s private members’ club eager to deny entry to the unwashed guests tugging on the bell outside.

The Blues were supposed to be in administration by now, potentially even condemned to existence beyond the Football League’s trapdoor.

Fan ownership, we were told, dwells in mediocrity rather than nudging success. Prepare for the Dark Ages.

Yet this is a football club which has long defied convention, thankfully spared the curse of predictability and the mundane.

Pompey should never have captured the League Two title on Saturday – but they did. Oh how they did.

Not unreasonably, few regarded Paul Cook’s side as possessing the capability of overhauling both Plymouth and Doncaster to occupy the division’s summit.

Granted, during the build-up the manager spoke of destiny and pointed towards fate’s welcoming embrace. Few listened, such was its improbability.

The Great Escape should never have occurred, that Manchester United quarter-final outcome was not realistic, Spurs at Wembley was preordained for an entirely different outcome. As for David Norris with his wrong foot, don’t be ludicrous.

But following orders is not a trait of Pompey and its supporters.

The Football League’s League Two trophy wasn’t even at Fratton Park, such was the depth of doubting. Instead it resided at Blundell Park in anticipation of a glorious Plymouth coronation.

When will football learn not to write off the club which refused to die and the fans who refrain from surrender?

Cook’s troops occupied top spot once all season – and that was on the Saturday when unveiled as champions.

With 10 wins from their final 12 league matches, this unstoppable force charged past the finishing line while others tripped over their shoelaces or paused to catch breath.

It shouldn’t have been, yet it truly was on a magnificent day when fiction became fact.

Pompey have now completed their Football League set of titles, becoming only the fifth club to accomplish such a feat.

Promotion, of course, had already been achieved. Cheltenham represented an unexpected gift when the cards had been taken down off the mantelpiece and cake consumed.

And it was all so deliciously fitting for the occasion.

For if we are about to witness the end of fan ownership at Fratton Park, what a magnificent finale.

The departure of chairman Iain McInnes, the potential relinquishment of Trust club ownership and the conceivable swansong of Enda Stevens – all neatly bound up as a full stop applied on a day to savour.

Watching from the directors’ box was wannabee owner Michael Eisner, attending his fourth match and already sampling that special Pompey feeling.

It would be highly clichéd to dare suggest heart-warming characteristics befitting a Disney film ending were played out to those 17,956 present. Yet they were.

The Blues were required to beat the Robins and wish upon a star for outcomes elsewhere to fall in their favour.

The first part of the challenge was achieved courtesy of a 6-1 triumph, largely driven by four goals in a 13-minute second-half spell.

Then arrived the hope, gazing pleadingly to the heavens that Doncaster and Plymouth would fail to secure victory on their travels.

The Pilgrims’ fate occurred first, with a 1-1 draw at a Grimsby side which included former Fratton favourite Ben Davies.

Next it was all eyes on Doncaster, trailing 2-1 at relegation-haunted Hartlepool, with still seven minutes to negotiate.

Chants of ‘Hartlepool’ had filled Fratton Park on occasions during the second half when news of progress filtered through.

Blues celebrations were prematurely under way before that Victoria Park final whistle sounded, although it failed to save the Pools from dropping out the Football League.

To think Cook had handed his men a half-time rollicking over an opening 45-minute display drowning in carelessness.

Yet during the second half they played like the champions they were ultimately to become, inspired by Kyle Bennett.

Daniel O’Shaughnessy had gifted the hosts a 13th minute lead when he sliced Stevens’ left-wing cross past his own keeper at the near post.

After the interval, however, Cook’s side ran Cheltenham ragged during a display to drool over.

It was Bennett who started the goal landslide when, on 62 minutes, he cut across the penalty area from the left and fired a right-foot shot which deflected off a defender past keeper Scott Brown.

Barely four minutes later and Bennett slid through a pass which picked out Kal Naismith’s run through the middle, the midfielder slotting home.

It was substitute Jamal Lowe who made it 4-0, collecting Gary Roberts’ reverse pass on 72 minutes before firing home an angled right-foot shot into the far corner.

Then, when Roberts was felled from behind by Liam Davis, Gareth Evans placed the resulting penalty high into the top corner.

Substitute James Dayton reduced the deficit on 77 minutes with an excellent solo goal emanating from the right after the Blues had lost possession in Cheltenham’s half.

With six minutes remaining, it was left to Michael Doyle to send a long lofted ball down the left channel, which was collected by Naismith, who controlled on his chest before sliding the ball into the net for a 6-1 finish.

At the final whistle fans invaded the pitch, carrying their heroes aloft during memorable celebrations.

Following defeat to Crewe at the start of March, Cook’s team had slipped to fifth amid calls for the manager’s head.

A return of 31 points from a possible 36 subsequently catapulted them to the League Two summit on the final day of the season.

The matter of taking the crown ahead of bitter rivals Plymouth by goal difference was also not lost on a joyous Cook and his players.

A perfect day.