Pompey 2 Accrington 0 – Neil Allen’s match report

Second-half substitute Kal Naismith puts the seal on Pompey's victory over Accrington Stanley, scoring in added-time to wrap up a hard-fought 2-0 win over his former club                Picture: Joe Pepler
Second-half substitute Kal Naismith puts the seal on Pompey's victory over Accrington Stanley, scoring in added-time to wrap up a hard-fought 2-0 win over his former club Picture: Joe Pepler
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It was a win.

Lacking in swaggering confidence, devoid of a purposeful strut, while at times there was an absence of genuine conviction.

Nonetheless, it was a victory.

The visit of Accrington represented a must-win occasion, no other outcome could be acceptable for a club nurturing automatic promotion aspirations.

In recent weeks, Pompey have been splashing around crying with cramp, while others have swum past at speed.

Successive slender defeats at the hands of rivals Exeter and Wycombe have done little enhance credentials nor dispel the doubts.

So on Saturday a Fratton Park kick-start was essential – and that is what Paul Cook’s side delivered.

The manner employed to secure that achievement was irrelevant, certainly the issue of style was not a crucial stipulation.

Simply put, Cook and his stuttering side were solely challenged to secure three points against the League Two strugglers.

It would be harsh to gratefully accept the fulfilment of that criteria, while grumbling it should have been accomplished in a more pleasing manner.

The Blues need victories to propel them towards third spot – and plenty of them.

Saturday was largely unconvincing, but the league table offers considerably more optimism following the 2-0 final scoreline.

Still, there were chunterings of discontent and growing frustration at failure to put the result beyond doubt before two minutes into stoppage time.

Meanwhile, there was the uncomfortable sound of cheers upon the 66th minute substitution of Gary Roberts after the fourth official had incorrectly indicated Jamal Lowe was making way.

Whether such a reaction reflected delight in Lowe remaining on the pitch or joy at Roberts’ removal, it was difficult to distinguish.

Regardless, it was unpleasant. After all, the same Roberts created the opening goal after 75 seconds, no less.

Yet it was a win and, suddenly, Pompey find themselves four points off the automatic promotion spots with a match in hand.

Job done on that particular day for Cook and his playing squad – and for that they should be congratulated.

In a pressure situation, they demonstrated gutsy commitment and spirit to bounce back from consecutive losses and put themselves back in the frame.

Certainly nobody before kick-off would have been discontented with the outcome of a 2-0 result.

Cook afterwards conceded the performance was not as satisfying as that delivered the previous week at Wycombe, an occasion they lost.

Not that it mattered, in truth.

From 75 seconds, the Blues never looked in any remote danger of surrendering the three points within their grasp.

Roberts played a short corner from the left with Eoin Doyle and, upon receiving the ball back, delivered a flighted cross which Matt Clarke headed home at the far post.

It was the central defender’s maiden goal of a campaign in which his growing stature has positioned himself as a genuine player of the season candidate.

In reality, it was a lead which was never going to be relinquished, such was Accrington’s inactivity in the final third.

Granted, in the second half there was a scrambled free-kick culminating in Janoi Donacien’s header, which had to be hacked away by Gareth Evans.

Post-match, Enda Stevens also pinpointed the threat provided by Evans’ careless throw-in across his own penalty area which an alarmed Matt Clarke had to hook clear.

Other than that, David Forde was untroubled as he recorded a 12th clean sheet of the league season, a statistic unmatched by anyone in the division.

The nagging fear with this Pompey side, however, is its tendency to blast itself in the foot with a rocket launcher, by failing to make superiority count.

And while it remained a brittle one-goal advantage, there was always the concern Stanley would scramble a way back in the most unjust of circumstances.

Certainly in recent weeks there has been an element of misfortune surrounding decisive goals inflicted upon the Blues.

The crowd of 15,955, minus the 48 visiting supporters, had entirely legitimate worries over a single goal being sufficient to earn victory and, as a result, it become nervy.

That was until Eoin Doyle flicked a pass to substitute Noel Hunt, who slipped the ball to his right for Kal Naismith to gallop onto.

The Scot, who had also appeared from the bench, calmly slotted a left-foot shot past Marek Rodak to seal victory during the second minute of added time.

Naismith celebrated by cupping his hand to his ear before heading towards the North Stand lower, where he had earlier received abuse from a supporter.

It also represented his seventh goal of the season, putting him level with Roberts and Conor Chaplin at the top of Pompey’s scoring charts.

For all the Blues’ undisputed dominance and superiority in ability, the wait to seal the welcome result had lingered far too long.

Their effectiveness in netting goals continues to be an issue, highlighted by the fact they remain the lowest scorers in the top six. Table-topping Doncaster possess a 17-goal advantage.

It’s criticism which should not be shrugged off. Ultimately that is an area of the field which will decide the outcome of promotion ambition.

Cook has established the tightest defence in League Two – and the sixth best outside of the Premier League, irrefutable facts.

Forde has his critics, as does Evans in defensive scenarios, yet the back five continue to provide a crucial platform in the ongoing promotion push. That is one problem less to occupy the manager’s thoughts.

The focus is on goals, yet Lowe has already impressed the Fratton faithful in his fledgling career, while the hard-working Eoin Doyle has been handed the opportunity to play his way into scoring form.

Still, on Saturday, a crucial victory was Pompey’s, while a number of results elsewhere also went in their favour.

The club now reside in sixth spot ahead of Tuesday evening’s visit of a Blackpool side which inflicted a 4-1 win at third-placed Carlisle.

Another must-win game for Cook’s troops. Then again, they all are at this stage of the season for Pompey.