Hartlepool 0 Pompey 2 – Neil Allen’s match report

Gary Roberts nets his goal at Victoria Park. Picture: Joe Pepler
Gary Roberts nets his goal at Victoria Park. Picture: Joe Pepler
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The meteorological collaboration beamed a smile on Victoria Park at the game’s culmination.

Beneath its glorious arc, the travelling fans rejoiced, while those architects of the impressive 2-0 triumph embraced.

A rainbow over Victoria Park

A rainbow over Victoria Park

As the saying goes, the greater your storm, the brighter your rainbow.

How those doggedly persisting with their Pompey affiliation have been weather-beaten, wind-swept and washed away during recent times.

Well, life as a football follower is presently locked on an upward trajectory. These are indeed the highs following sediment-scrambling lows.

And, with immaculate timing, a rainbow emerged in the Hartlepool skies to provide an enchanting soundtrack to the success story unfolding below.

Since the end of the Second World War, Pompey have basked in five promotion campaigns during 71 Football League seasons.

We are currently witnessing a magical sixth.

As the joyous 977 travellers chimed during their glide towards the Victoria Park exit, ‘Everything’s gonna be alright’.

Talk of promotion is not presumptuous, neither is it a demonstration of breaktaking arrogance.

With five victories in six matches since Crewe and eight wins and two defeats in 12 fixtures since Wycombe, Paul Cook’s side maintain a vice-like grip on their destiny.

At the self-styled business end of the season, the Blues are delivering admirably.

During that period, criticism over systems, the defence and the manager have shrunk to inaudible levels as this Pompey side march skywards.

They currently reside in the departure lounge – and now have six matches to ensure the flight to League One is caught.

Considering four of those encounters are scheduled to be held on home territory, you can surely forgive the mind galloping ahead to reflect on grounds to visit next season.

For while the rainbow rose from its slumber, there was actually a bolt of lightning which struck realisation into those gathered at Hartlepool on Saturday.

Cook’s side continue to look every inch a promotion team. What’s more, fate is running out of matches to conspire to dictate an alternative outcome.

The players were challenged to bounce back from Crewe to demonstrate they were capable of leading this club out of the Football League’s basement.

Their response as a squad has been nothing short of astonishing at a time when potential rivals are stuttering for form.

Divisional figures show Pompey are six points clear of fourth place, possess the second-best goal difference, boast the finest defensive record and the joint-second highest goalscoring mantle.

Overwhelming reasons to put aside the nerves and caution and embrace the inevitable. It’s happening.

On Saturday, Cook was robbed of the services of in-form Carl Baker through a hamstring injury and Eoin Doyle with his groin problem.

Christian Burgess’ return from a one-match ban totalled three changes to the side which the previous weekend beat Newport County 2-1.

The subsequent performance was as convincing as the scoreline suggests, with the final 30 minutes seen out with a swagger and a strut.

Not even the loss of Noel Hunt to a dislocated shoulder on the stroke of half-time could nudge the visitors off course, such is this team’s steely-fix on their goal at present.

Cook’s response to that blow was to employ Kal Naismith as a central striker and bring on Gary Roberts to bolster attacking midfield options.

With Conor Chaplin and Nicke Kabamba on the bench, supporters can be forgiven for questioning such a decision from their manager.

Yet how that tactical approach reaped its rewards as Roberts reverted to the outstanding player at the season’s start, with a goal in the process.

The visit to Stevenage aside, Cook is continuing to masterfully oversee a late-season surge which is heading for another League Two promotion being entered on his CV.

Unquestionably stung by criticism on occasions while at the Fratton Park helm, the manager has long insisted he should be judged on his overall tenure.

Well, at present, Cook is ordering his suit in anticipation of sitting at the top table alongside George Smith, Frank Burrows, Bobby Campbell, Alan Ball and Harry Redknapp.

Of course, the inspiration behind victory at Hartlepool was once again that man Kal Naismith, whose remarkable rejuvenation should be held aloft as an example to many.

Last season the Scot enjoyed a four-game loan spell with Pools, who were keen to extend it further.

On Saturday he returned to register his 10th goal in his last 23 appearances and then supply Roberts’ decisive second-half strike.

With 11 goals to his name this season, the Blues’ unlikely leading scorer continues to defy the bleak future once thrust in his path.

Naismith has branded it the form of his career – and how this promotion campaign is basking in the benefits of the revitalised winger.

The breakthrough against Dave Jones’ side arrived in the 17th minute when the magnificent Enda Stevens delivered a cross from the left.

Naismith was all alone to unleash a sweet a first-time left-foot shot past Hartlepool keeper Joe Fryer with the barest minimum of fuss.

That moment spurred on the hosts, who began to pile sizeable pressure on their opponents, with winger Nathan Thomas instrumental down the left.

Starved of possession and the attacking likes of Jamal Lowe forced to serve in more defensive situations, Cook’s men would have undoubtedly been grateful for the half-time whistle.

Crucially, however, despite their dominance of the ball, Pools failed to test David Forde as Pompey’s defensive might once more shone.

Then, on 51 minutes, Thomas fired a right-foot shot which smacked against the inside of the far post.

The match was effectively over on the hour mark, though, when Naismith retrieved the ball inside the penalty area after his shot had initially been blocked.

He spotted Roberts to his left and the substitute fired a shot high into the roof of the net.

There was even time for Naismith to hit the left-hand post as Pompey comfortably saw out victory.

And we can all see a rainbow.