Pompey 1 Hartlepool 3

Pompey defender Dan Butler gets stuck in
Pompey defender Dan Butler gets stuck in
Brett Pitman celebrates his second goal at Oldham. Picture: Joe Pepler

Inspiration Pitman eyeing strong Pompey finish

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Perhaps it was fitting for Graham Rix to be there.

It was arguably Pompey’s lowest point on the football field at Fratton Park since a certain Leyton Orient game 11 years to the very month.

And Rix, manager for that infamous FA Cup defeat in 2002, was sat just four seats down from another former Blues manager, Steve Claridge, in the south stand on Saturday.

In a campaign which persists in seeing Pompey explore new depths, they continue to find trap doors to plummet through when it appears the ground is firm.

The visit of Hartlepool provided another low point just when it seemed the lift shaft had reached the bottom.

Let’s not get sniffy about a club like the Pools through misplaced snobbery and start dragging up history and heritage as exhibits in pathetic desperation.

Pompey have no right to beat anyone they encounter in League One, make no mistake. Their recent FA Cup and Premier League status are irrelevant in the climate they find themselves.

As a team, however, Hartlepool journeyed to Fratton Park having scored the fewest number of goals in the four English divisions and having won only twice in the league all season.

Earlier in the campaign they set an unwanted club record for matches without victory and, at the bottom and well adrift of the rest, they are undoubtedly destined for League Two.

But on Saturday they turned up on the south coast and pulled off a 3-1 triumph.

The aching pain refuses to subside for Blues fans. No number of defeats in an abject season – and there have been many – dulls the agony. Granted, 47 players have now been utilised during the campaign, loans and freebies the overwhelming majority of them.

At the final whistle four teenagers were on the pitch, while also finishing the match were three players who have appeared in Blue Square Bet South and below this season.

The club have been torn to shreds by breathless mismanagement from a procession of owners and chief executives who have dragged it to the point of liquidation.

Nonetheless, Pompey would have anticipated beating a poor Hartlepool side on home turf at the beginning of a run of fixtures which sees them facing a number of fellow strugglers.

As it was, three appalling pieces of defending condemned Blues to another demoralising defeat and stretched a winless run to 15 matches.

Of course, the bigger picture is the future of the club, surviving and being able to rebuild with the fans at the helm. If it is in League Two, then so be it.

Certainly another rendition of the League Two Tour song reflects a spirit which will not diminish upon likely relegation.

A third drop in four seasons holds no fear for a group of supporters who include two generations who have been in the bottom division before.

However, 10,981 turned up to watch a game of football against the Pools following the cancellation of successive matches.

Inevitably they are going to feel despondent and downhearted following another loss – this one the most crippling of all this season.

Pompey themselves were complicit in Saturday’s result and central to it were three experienced players who have featured in international football.

Johnny Ertl, Ricardo Rocha and Gabor Gyepes – the three-man central defensive unit – allowed Jack Baldwin to net with a free header from a free-kick in the 18th minute.

They then misjudged a straight goal kick down the middle from Scott Flinders to provide James Poole with a timeless opportunity to net a second in the 52nd minute.

It was basic stuff – the sort of mistakes the defence, in a number of guises during the season, have repeated over and over and over again.

As for the third Hartlepool goal, Dan Butler was caught in possession down the left flank during five minutes of stoppage time with the hosts pushing forward for an equaliser.

That’s a lesson he will learn, although in fairness it was an attempt to be positive from the 18-year-old when the match was effectively already lost.

There should be no criticism lingering around the Isle of Wight youngster, who had his hands on his head as substitute Greg Rutherford finished with his first touch.

Certainly he emerged with credit from his Fratton Park debut – as did Jed Wallace.

Butler was on loan with the Hawks not so long ago, now he is making his Football League bow at left wing-back, such is the way Pompey’s season has panned out.

As for Wallace, he faced the likes of Leiston, Metropolitan Police and Concord Rangers during a fruitful spell with Whitehawk in the Ryman premier division.

On Saturday he capped an encouraging Pompey display by crashing home what would prove to be a consolation goal in the 67th minute.

It was a rare moment to cheer, the 18-year-old showing his finishing quality from a tight angle – and as he celebrated so enthusiastically by himself while trotting back to the centre circle, you could see what it meant.

In terms of the future of Pompey, fans will be hoping for many more sights of the Lewes recruit spearheading the side next season.

Yet buried in defeat was a good first half and one which should have seen Guy Whittingham’s men head in at the break in the lead.

Hartlepool had Scott Flinders to thank for that with a succession of superb saves.

The pick of the bunch was in the 16th minute as he somehow kept out Darel Russell’s turn and shot with his right hand and then used his left hand’s fingers to tip David Connolly’s overhead kick past the post.

Within minutes the Blues defence had gifted the visitors the lead through Baldwin.

The hosts also had their moments in the second half, Connolly’s angled shot trickling agonisingly wide of the far post.

And even though Wallace’s strike gave hope, they couldn’t manage to complete the comeback before Rutherford sealed it in stoppage time.

The Pompey chimes rang out at the final whistle in an act of defiance and support.

The Fratton faithful won’t be beaten, even if their team continues to be.

It was 11 years ago when Orient – a team two divisions below Pompey at the time – won 4-1 at Fratton in the FA Cup, as Rix will remember only too well.

Great times did follow – now it is time for the bad.

And it keeps getting worse as fans wait for that precious new dawn.