Bury 1 Pompey 0: Jordan Cross’ match report

Brett Pitman holds his head in his hands as the Bury players celebrate Picture: Joe Pepler
Brett Pitman holds his head in his hands as the Bury players celebrate Picture: Joe Pepler
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Michael Eisner smiled and shook the hands thrust in his direction in the directors’ box.

But, for a man used to winning in life, this was an embarrassing defeat to witness.

And one which told him everything about the size of the task he faces to make his football club League One contenders.

Away to the Pompey owner’s left, 1,525 hardy supporters were beating a downtrodden path to the Gigg Lane exits to complete a round-trip in excess of 500 miles.

Their wallets were as empty as their spirits, after shelling out the exorbitant costs of following their team on the road - only to be let down in such depressing fashion.

Even the traditional carnival atmosphere reserved for the final away game of the season was conspicuous by its absence in the north west, as the last of seven thousand-plus miles on the road were completed.

But then it’s not a great deal of fun watching your team humbled by the division’s whipping boys.

Bury will finish the season well adrift of the rest in football’s third tier. They’ve been so poor this term they’ve known for a couple of weeks they will be playing in League Two next season. They hadn’t even won a game in over two months.

Yet, they were good value for their victory against a side who showcased all their deficiencies for their watching owner to see in the flesh.

There were more than a few mentions of wallets needing to be opened among royal blue bloods, as a summer of reshaping under the billionaire was considered.

At the moment, that appears unlikely. It will quickly become a source of frustration if performance levels remain at the same level witnessed over the past couple of weeks in the new season.

Pompey went into the game with making the play-offs the longest of shots. It wasn’t quite the 5000-1 odds of Leicester winning the Premier League, but it felt like it was getting there.

Only the most optimistic of optimists believed it was on the cards, after two defeats which had already effectively penned a deflating final chapter to the 2017-18 season.

Memories of the Miracle of Fratton Park 12 months ago were regurgitated in support of their argument, but now results involving three clubs, and not two, needed to go Pompey’s way.

No one really expected that to be the case and, this time, they didn’t, rendering the result against Ryan Lowe’s side inconsequential.

What was anticipated, however, was for the final two outings of the season to provide a post-script which sent fans on their summer hols with their appetites whetted for what lies ahead.

Instead, what we witnessed was a dispiriting showing. A performance devoid of the tempo and commitment which is the minimum requirement, when representing a following who’ve emptied their back accounts to show their unmitigated support.

There was a drive across goal from Ben Close at the end of a busy second-minute run,

There was the offside flag sparing Oli Hawkins’ blushes, as he headed wide a few yards out after 24 minutes with the goal gaping.

And there was Jamal Lowe - once again the player most likely to deliver an attacking spark amid the mediocrity - flashing a shot past Joe Murphy’s upright just before a break.

But out of a 45 minutes of football where the only saving grace there was the sight of sumo wrestlers in fancy dress and the non-league drama of Gosport and Hawks to distract us from the dour fare on offer, Bury’s confidence was allowed to grow.

This was a team who’ve become bedfellows with defeat. An opponent who were winless in 10 and had been turned over 26 times in league action this season.

The Shakers, however, were allowed to scrape their flattened morale off the floor thanks to Pompey’s generosity.

Hawkins again failed to work Murphy with a free header six minutes after the restart, on an afternoon where he didn’t make the most of his first start in 10.

Then O’Keefe flashed a deflected volley over the top from a Blues’ set-piece after 60 minutes.

But then came the gift to give a little late-season pleasure to the north-west corner of Greater Manchester.

Brett Pitman had been required to clear the impressive George Miller’s finish off the line in the 67th minute, from former Pompey target Jay O’Shea’s corner.

But seconds later came Luke McGee’s contribution to the goalkeeping blooper reel.

Sub Matty Kennedy’s backpass was a lively one on a bobbly end-of-season surface, but as soon as the keeper took a touch, impending doom was sensed.

Miller could smell the indecision and seized upon the botched Cruyff turn from the keeper, before accepting he gift. It was a horror show from the 22-year-old, who performed heroics against Wigan the last time Eisner witnessed him in action live, befitting of being the decisive moment in such a depressing loss.

There was Kennedy failing to make the most of a clear and undisturbed sight of goal with nine minutes left, as he found space in the box from Pitman’s flick.

And Conor Chaplin so nearly fired a message to Jackett over his continuing non-inclusion in stoppage-time, but was denied by the excellence of Murphy’s reflexes.

But Pompey got what they deserved on a day when gassed out-of-form players appeared laboured and failed to give the finale to the season demanded of them.

That was the sentiment delivered by their manager, who can’t afford to allow being disappointed by his men in such obvious fashion slide when making decisions on futures over the coming days and weeks.

‘I asked for a strong finish - they’ve done anything but,’ came the succinct assessment from Jackett after the game. There has be repercussions for that.

Because it’s not just the Pompey boss impacted by players falling short of the minimum standards of commitment required.

Jackett last week attended a dinner at the Isle of Wight supporters’ club, and heard tales of hiring transport and setting off at dawn to travel the length of the country and support their team.

Those folk sailed back across the Solent and got home in the early hours of Sunday knowing they’d been let down by those same players.

Eisner may have witnessed it too, but those fans on the mini-bus back to the island is why this defeat mattered most.