A few weeks ago there was a healthy section of Pompey fans who insisted they preferred the Championship to the Premier League.
After this sharp dose of grim reality, the answer might now be rather different.
Like a marathon runner who had fallen at the start line, Pompey found their stride and ran the hard miles in October in their bid to catch the early leaders.
But iADVERTISEMENT n November, they’ve hit the wall, the legs are feeling like lead again and they now desperately need a water station in the shape of a useful loanee to pep them up again.
A vibrant team that strung together a series of impressive displays is now looking decidedly jaded and it will now take another big effort to regroup for the next section.
It’s easy to turn to an overused cliché in attempting to assess Pompey’s road trip to a part of the world that so-called southern softies would perhaps choose not to visit if it was at all possible.
But there was that one familiar and rather unkind word that is sometimes associated with the north of the country that perfectly summed up this game and indeed the Blues performance: grim.
Before any of those doubters from the start of the season begin to find their voice again, the reality of the situation is that Pompey’s battle-weary troops simply need some reinforcements from somewhere.
It was a shame, therefore, that club owner Balram Chainrai was unable to attend this fixture to get another look at the team he owns.
In the two matches he has seen this season, he would have seen quality but a distinct lack of quantity available to a manager he recently claimed he ‘loved’.
Rather than showering his man with gifts though, maybe it was tough love that he was talking about in an attempt not to spoil him.
As hard as it is for Cotterill, the over-riding factor is that a team that looked like genuine play-off contenders just a matter of weeks ago in a glittering run of form does not suddenly become relegation fodder after four winless games.
The run of 19 points from a possible 21 has now been succeeded by just one point from 12.
But with a dash of perspective, it’s 20 points from a possible 33 – not exactly the kind of form that sets the world alight, but not a run to get anyone reaching for the Prozac just yet, either.
Six wins, two draws and three defeats is, after all, a decent enough record from 11 games for a squad that is so plainly lacking in numbers.
While Pompey have been worthy of praise for their recent resurgence, they should also be big enough to hold their hands up when they don’t hit those same standards – regardless of the contributory factors.
And anyone suggesting Pompey’s performance deserved anything better than a defeat at Oakwell would have been misguided.
Let’s be honest – Barnsley were no great shakes themselves, with their two wide players of Adam Hammill and Jim O’Brien the only real source of possible danger in a distinctly workmanlike side that is unlikely to be challenging for the promotion places come the end of the season.
Pompey have already played and beaten far better teams this term.
But Pompey’s attacking verve was alarmingly conspicuous by its absence, save for a bright opening 10-minute spell, reminiscent of the start they made to the game that ended in a 3-2 defeat by Doncaster last weekend.
The passing was ponderous and lacking in any fluidity and Barnsley goalkeeper Luke Steele had precious little to do throughout the 90 minutes.
In fact, the whole energy of the side looked below its usual levels, although that will not come as a major surprise considering the recent workload for such a small group of players.
The game itself was not one that will live long in the memory for those who did witness it, although Hammill’s early match-winner was a rare shard of quality.
With David Nugent unable to take his opportunity within the opening 40 seconds as he curled a shot beyond the far post after cutting in from the left flank, Hammill showed how it was done when he was granted a free pop at Jamie Ashdown’s goal from the edge of the box and clattered home an excellent strike. Garry O’Connor made progress down the left, crossed into the box where Goran Lovre nodded back to Hammill – who had the freedom to hit a telling shot from just inside the box.
Pompey’s response was minimal as their early confidence quickly drifted away to a succession of misplaced passes, although John Utaka nearly created an opening for himself just past the midway point in the half and at last gave Steele something to do with a long-ranger that he patted down easily enough.
If the travelling Pompey fans were expecting the usual second-half improvement, it didn’t materialise this time as the lethargy continued and it was Barnsley who looked the more likely to find a second goal.
Ashdown was forced into one tip over the bar from Lovre’s header, although the referee decided that the keeper hadn’t touched it in keeping with the officials that have overseen Pompey’s games recently.
Yet again, the man in the middle irritated both teams and the two sets of supporters.
One of these days, we’ll get another decent referee.
Dave Kitson – whose confidence looks inexplicably shot to pieces at present – and Nugent were unable to cause a disciplined Barnsley defence too many problems and the head of steam that Pompey were hoping to build simply never arrived.
A late Ricardo Rocha half-chance with an overhead kick, a Joel Ward speculative attempt and a half-chance for Nugent who couldn’t get the right connection on a through-ball were not much to show in terms of efforts on goal. And while Barnsley didn’t manage to do an awful lot better, they did at least have the goal to their name that settled a contest that warranted barely 30 seconds on The Football League show on Saturday night.
For once, the producers were right in their decision to virtually ignore the Pompey match this week.
Many who made the trip to Barnsley from the south coast may well be wishing they’d done the same thing.