Dust has settled but pain still hard to take

Ben Close and Adam Barton take in the defeat at Home Park Picture: Joe Pepler
Ben Close and Adam Barton take in the defeat at Home Park Picture: Joe Pepler
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The dust had settled but the gut-wrenching pain remained.

Grown men had shed tears in the away dressing room at Home Park. Young and old, likewise, in the stand housing the 1,696 travelling Pompey fans.

In the bowels of Plymouth’s home, Paul Cook had shown the class to personally congratulate the victors.

That moment arrived at the end of four other ill-tempered chapters across the campaign which culminated in this lowest of lows.

But facing the press was a step too far for the Scouser. The wounds of battle too fresh and deep.

Similarly, the players were quiet. The faces with the star & crescent on their tracksuits grey, and their eyes vacant as they made their way to the solitude of the team coach.

The silence was set to reflect poorly on the club. Fans deserved some answers.

That was until chairman Iain McInnes got wind there was no official comment emerging and fronted up.

Often portrayed as a caricature of a lower-league chairman, his raucous antics in the directors’ box frowned upon by many, McInnes sensed the dark mood deepening.

It was then he spotted the eccentric-looking Argyle fan in the corner of his eye.

‘It’s Max Wall!’, McInnes exclaimed, making his way to his bemused target who was the double of the musical hall, theatre and TV comedian.

The act continued with McInnes replicating the silly walk Wall was renowned for and shaking the fan’s hand.

To some it would have been another daft piece of behaviour from a figurehead who should know better.

The Pompey chairman knew exactly what he was doing, though.

Somehow McInnes had managed to raise a laugh in the bleakest of moments. And, jeez, wasn’t it needed.

If people thought the joke was on him, that was fine.

‘They may think I’m an idiot with the way I act in the directors’ box,’ McInnes whispered in a quiet aside.

‘But maybe this old man has picked some experience over the years.’

McInnes then proceeded to give his response to a series of tricky questions at the most testing times.

Why have Pompey failed this season? Have the board done enough? What of Paul Cook’s future? What of your future?

Twenty minutes later McInnes signed off in magnanimous style with congratulations and hopes of Wembley victory for Plymouth.

Those Pompey fans who saw the Pilgrims faithful dancing with delight on the pitch in front of them after being dealt late heartache may have found echoing those sentiments a challenge.

Yet, they shouldn’t have denied that, this time, their opponents were worthy winners.

The case could be made in each of the previous encounters Paul Cook’s side were superior.

This time it was Derek Adams’ men who were the better performers.

Pompey’s momentum was knocked by first-half injuries and a cagey affair went the direction of the home side the longer the game wore on.

Still, it didn’t make the manner of defeat easier to take.

There was a slice of fortune to Peter Hartley’s ricocheted header, but the timing of the blow landed like a concussive knockout a second before the final bell.

It hurt. My, oh my, it hurt.

And Alan Knight has felt it before.

That was clear as emotion welled in his eyes as he tried to control his feelings while giving his thoughts as the sun set on Pompey’s season.

Twenty three years on, Knigtsy’s scars from the loss to Leicester were still visible. Now these new wounds will need time to heal for us all.