Peterborough 1 Portsmouth 2 – Neil Allen’s match report

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The ‘We are going up’ chant emanated from bullish home occupants of the London Road terrace.

Admittedly the scoreline was goalless at the moment of such bombastic rhetoric, Peterborough’s proud presence at League One’s summit still unaffected.

Oli Hawkins' heaader finds the back of the net against Peterborough Picture: Joe Pepler

Oli Hawkins' heaader finds the back of the net against Peterborough Picture: Joe Pepler

The clock pinpointed 56 minutes during the seventh league match of the 2018-19 campaign at the mid-September stage.

Certainly such sturdy self-assurance during a season’s formative steps was a little hasty from a Posh faithful numbering more than 10,000 for a home league match for more than five years.

Within 19 minutes, visiting Pompey had established an unassailable two-goal lead – in the process nudging Steve Evans’ side off the top of the table.

Title challenges can change swiftly, as Doncaster and Plymouth will persuasively testify following their most recent League Two campaigns.

Joe Gallen, ushered into post-match press duties by Blues boss Kenny Jackett, reassuringly offered a more cautious appraisal when quizzed on his team’s prospects.

Tiptoeing with admirable deftness, he avoided all mention of the ‘promotion’ proclamation when discussing the encouraging direction Pompey appear to be heading.

‘I cannot say that word because it is miles away,’ came the measured response of a character who usually bears such infectious enthusiasm.

Nonetheless, the Blues currently stand atop of League One, the only unbeaten side in the division and cradling a five-point cushion from third spot.

Undoubtedly these are early days, there should be no declaration of a glorious promotion triumph with 38 fixtures still to fulfil. Logic and superstition decree a low-key evaluation.

Yet Saturday escalated the belief among the Fratton faithful and players that this can be a season when Championship football is booked to return.

The pull is irresistible, even if rationality dictates the tempering of such wild excitement.

Pompey’s followers may not have sung smugly about ‘going up’, but the tantalising signs are obvious, even though a mere eight matches into the adventure.

A trip to London Road to face the unbeaten league leaders was the first Herculean labour awaiting this ambitious Jackett side – and they fulfilled it magnificently.

The occasion felt like a big match, a bumper crowd, the atmosphere crackling at times, the game played at frantic pace with little to choose between the sides.

It was reminiscent of those wonderfully tense Plymouth clashes during the Paul Cook era, albeit the Pilgrims these days rooted to the foot of League One.

A genuine top-of-the table clash, if such an episode can legitimately occur during an eighth match of the campaign before the clocks have gone back.

What a game to win – and the statement Pompey subsequently delivered to the rest of the division was compelling.

The 2-1 scoreline against Peterborough suggests an encounter a little closer than the second half developed into, Matt Godden’s stoppage-time consolation rather misleading.

The Blues had stepped up their domination after the break, netting twice in the process and constructing a formidable barrier in front of Craig MacGillivray, who was rarely tested.

Then, during seven minutes of time added on, Jamal Lowe lost possession ball during an attack and the Posh dashed away to hit back through their leading scorer.

It stoked up a nervy finish where there needn’t have been one and suddenly the visiting defence came under more pressure than the previous 90 minutes.

But, as supporters who have attended the vast majority of Pompey matches will agree, this team can defend in the face of an onslaught, irrespective of whether Christian Burgess or Jack Whatmough stand in the heart of the defence.

There’s guts and fight in abundance – and Jackett’s troops dug in to see out an eye-catching victory.

Of course, his side can attack as well and, in Ronan Curtis and Lowe, the Blues boast a destructive wide pair in outstanding form at present.

Curtis limped off in the 90th minute, replaced by Brandon Haunstrup, following a surge upfield which had the Posh scrambling to terminate in the bluntest of executions.

Marcus Maddison produced the first attempt, with an ugly challenge, and then Jamie Walker’s cynical lunge also clipped the Irishman’s wings as he flew with ball still threaded to his feet.

The attack ended with tireless Curtis colliding with keeper Aaron Chapman as he attempted to head a cross from the left after laying it off on his run.

It also signalled the end of his involvement, limping off after sustaining a blow to the left foot during the process of that break forward. Pompey fans will hope it is not serious.

The instant return to Jackett’s side after two matches away on international duty with the Republic of Ireland created a difference dimension.

It represented one of two changes,replacing the injured Andre Green, while Ben Close came in for Ben Thompson in the centre of midfield for the London Road battle.

Yet it was dynamic Curtis who was, inevitably, Pompey’s inspiration.

He initiated the opener on 62 minutes, beating Joe Ward down the left before clipping in a cross which Hawkins met with a controlled header which found the bottom corner with bounce and precision.

A welcome first goal of the season for the towering central forward, who himself would also play a pivotal part in the second goal on 75 minutes.

Curtis cut through the Posh defence down the left, feeding it to Hawkins, who took the ball across the penalty area and crossed right-footed.

It picked out Curtis at the far post, whose header teed up Lowe beautifully to steer a first-time right-footed finish and make it 2-0 for his fifth of the campaign.

It was an advantage which was comfortable until four minutes of stoppage time, when Walker’s ball into the box was nudged to Godden by substitute Ivan Toney and the striker calmly applied a left-footed finish.

But the outcome was unaffected – and League One has new leaders dreaming of promotion.