Crystal Palace 4 - Pompey 1

Lee Bowyer.

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In terms of false dawns, it proved to be the cruellest of them all.

A precious clean sheet against Ipswich and suddenly the defensive renaissance had begun.

It had certainly taken long enough – the seventh time of asking in fact – during an early season which had seen the back four creak at alarming regularity.

Then those Tractor Boys achievements came tumbling down on a damp night at Selhurst Park.

Barely 72 hours after that impressive maiden shut-out and all those defensive inadequacies came flooding back against Crystal Palace.

In fact, they returned with a vengeance, this time more disturbing and more worrying than ever before.

So much for providing the springboard for Pompey to catapult themselves up the Championship table.

A 4-1 defeat to George Burley’s men really was as depressing as it is painted.

Granted, in respect of chances created and football produced in parts, the scoreline does not represent a fair indicator of the game which unfolded.

It was the hammering which actually wasn’t a hammering, regardless of what the result may suggest and irrespective of what is now entered into the record books.

This was no one-sided affair, this was no one-team show.

Pompey could well have added to the Dave Kitson strike they did register with – they certainly had enough opportunities.

Then that rearguard intervened, reverting to type in spectacular fashion.

Two goals in a four-minute spell in the second half and it was game, set and match Crystal Palace.

If that wasn’t infuriating enough, it occurred during a period when the visitors were well on top and looking good for taking the lead.

From reaching for the skies to slumping to familiar depths, it all happened within the blink of an eye.

And once again, Pompey’s defence played an integral role.

How James Vaughan must not have believed his good fortune at the helping hand sent his way on what was his home debut.

On loan from Everton, he was itching to make a favourable impression in his new surroundings.

Sure enough, he was generously assisted by Cotterill’s men and they crumpled alarmingly during a second-half defensive horror show.

The breakthrough – and second Palace goal – saw right-back Alex Marrow spark a swift counter attack by crashing a long ball down the middle.

It sent Vaughan and Neil Danns scuttling through free from the attention of any Blues player, the former arriving ahead of Jamie Ashdown to lob the ball into an empty net.

Several Pompey players appealed for offside in vain – a baton that was taken up by Pompey boss Steve Cotterill to officials and also in his media address.

Still, on 59 minutes it happened again, this time Paddy McCarthy sending in a booming ball which was flicked towards goal by Danns.

Once more, Vaughan reacted quickest to again clip the ball past the advancing Ashdown for his hat-trick.

For a team which had scored just one goal in five previous Championship outings, there was going to be no stirring fight back.

Sure enough, Danns capped an outstanding display by taking a generous tumble under the presence of Michael Brown to earn – and net with – an 81st-minute penalty.

It truly was grim stuff from Cotterill’s troops as the battered reputations which had been partially repaired on Saturday unravelled in spectacular style.

Against Ipswich, the often-criticised Ibrahima Sonko and Carl Dickinson turned in their most impressive performances to date.

However, they were well below par last night, along with an increasingly exasperated Ricardo Rocha.

At least Joel Ward did himself proud, especially in the second half when his forays down the right flank were regularly productive.

But for all the defensive woes, at the other end of the pitch Pompey did impress.

Hayden Mullins saw one 25-yarder beaten out by Julian Speroni, while in the second half he tamely side-footed the ball straight at the keeper.

Liam Lawrence went close with a dipping volley which flashed narrowly wide following good work by David Nugent.

Kitson saw a left-foot half volley flash wide, while a goal-bound header after the break was diverted by the head of Kanu over the bar.

Substitute John Utaka also had a header cleared off the line in the final stages.

As it was, Kitson’s 24th-minute strike was all the Blues had to show for their attacking efforts.

Even then, that was generously assisted by Anthony Gardner, who headed the ball back, only to discover Speroni had already charged out of his goal.

It allowed Kitson to crash the ball into an empty net to open his Pompey account.

That strike cancelled out Vaughan’s spectacular 14th-minute opener, when he spun with back to goal and drove the ball into the top corner.

Those goals ensured it was 1-1 going into the interval and anyone’s game.

That was until the Pompey rearguard returned to old habits and intervened once again.