Pompey 3 Northampton 1 – Neil Allen’s match report

Oli Hawkins heads home his second goal in the 3-1 win against Northampton Picture: Joe Pepler
Oli Hawkins heads home his second goal in the 3-1 win against Northampton Picture: Joe Pepler
Chelsea youngster Ruben Sammut PPP-180803-143813002

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And so a stunning 2017 has drawn to its conclusion.

The year commenced with Pompey sitting fourth in League Two. It finished residing sixth in League One.

Curiously, the 52 weeks in-between at times produced calls for the heads of managers Paul Cook or Kenny Jackett from some.

Nonetheless, there has been promotion, followed by a title and now a presence in League One’s top six and with it the play-offs.

The Blues ensured they departed an outstanding calendar year on a dizzying high, inflicting a 3-1 defeat on struggling Northampton.

It represented a 20th win at Fratton Park in 2017 – another magnificent statistic to emphasise the ongoing accomplishments.

These remain wonderful times for Pompey followers in the continuing climb to regain their rightful footballing place.

The foundations dug by fan ownership have been built upon by the Jackett era and Tornante regime. The fine work refuses to pause neither for breath or reflection.

Granted, the Blues are embroiled in lower-league football, yet this is what they are at present, these are the obstacles they must overcome as they scramble towards the light.

And the Fratton faithful have been served with lifelong memories during 2017’s superb progress.

Meadow Lane, celebrating with players in the Victory Lounge, Cheltenham at Fratton Park and Southsea Common – moments to treasure.

And on Saturday arrived a late entrant, barging its way through for a last-gasp cameo in a year overspilling with positivity.

Admittedly, the encounter with Northampton was far from a classic, for almost the entire first half it was devoid of tempo and deprived of any entertainment value.

However, as we approach 2018 it yielded fresh hope of somehow trumping the previous 12 months. Somehow.

Victory, coupled with Peterborough’s defeat at nine-man MK Dons, meant occupying the play-off positions for the first time this season.

Suddenly this campaign of consolidation has metamorphosed into a play-off push. Pompey progress is refusing to slacken.

And with a sixth straight victory on home territory, Fratton is indeed the fortress inspiring what is developing into another exciting season.

The source for this latest triumph was just as encouraging, with the Blues’ support acts stepping forward to take centre stage in style.

At the heart of the 3-1 triumph were two-goal Oli Hawkins, man-of-the-match Matty Kennedy and assist-maker Dion Donohue.

All had been recalled for the Cobblers’ visit, with only Donohue’s presence down to the injury of a rival, yet they demonstrated strength in depth to a squad which would look threadbare by the end of match.

For Hawkins it was the first time in 10 league matches he had started in attack, while Kennedy was handed only his third start in 11 games.

As for Donohue, replacing knee-injury victim Brandon Haunstrup at left-back, it represented only the second time in 12 fixtures he has made Pompey’s starting XI.

Certainly points to prove for the trio who have each endured fluctuating fortunes since arriving together on transfer deadline day.

What unfolded was Hawkins delivering a strong reminder of his striking talents, Kennedy reiterating his creative ability and Donohue shining as an attacking full-back.

The prizes delivered by a competitive playing squad are often stressed. On Saturday it was apparent to all those gathered in the 18,539 crowd of the benefits of players eager to succeed.

Jackett’s three changes to the side which beat AFC Wimbledon on Boxing Day consisted of Hawkins replacing Conor Chaplin and operating as the lone striker, with Brett Pitman dropping behind.

Elsewhere, Jamal Lowe, so short of goals and assists at present, was replaced on the left of the attacking three by Kennedy.

Finally, a knee problem picked up by Haunstrup in training opened the door for Donohue at left-back, a massive blow to the Waterlooville youngster following six successive outings.

Jackett would collect injuries to two more of his players during the process of the Northampton victory, most serious of all suffered by Danny Rose.

On 24 minutes, referee Lee Swabey awarded a drop ball having stopped play for Nathan Thompson to receive treatment for a facial injury.

That was contested between Rose and John-Joe O’Toole, only for the Northampton player to crash a challenge against the midfielder’s left leg.

Rose received five minutes of treatment before carried off with a suspected broken leg – a potential season-ending injury.

So cruel for one of the Blues’ most outstanding players during the past two months, particularly at a time when talks had opened over a new deal.

In addition, Gareth Evans later departed on the stroke of half-time with a hamstring problem, to be replaced by Lowe.

In terms of football, a lacklustre first half sprang into life on 36 minutes when Chris Long gave the visitors the lead.

It emanated from Ben Close losing possession in the opposition’s half and was quickly seized upon, Lewis McGugan eventually threading the ball through to Long to score with a right-foot finish.

The striker incensed the Fratton end by cupping his ear to them during his celebrations – but the Cobblers’ advantage lasted five minutes.

Kennedy exchanged passes with Close – marking his 50th Pompey game – before driving a right-footed shot into the far corner.

Then, on the stroke of half-time, the Blues claimed a lead they were never going to relinquish.

Christian Burgess pinged a diagonal ball from his own half into the Northampton penalty area and Hawkins rose to steer a brilliant header from around 15 yards out into the top corner.

The scoreline was completed on 48 minutes when Donohue delivered a first-time left-footed cross and there was Hawkins at the far post to bundle past a defender to head home.

There could have been more goals, Close striking the bar and Matt Ingram keeping the Blues at bay, yet 3-1 it remained.

So here’s onto 2018 – you have a hell of a year to surpass.