Pompey 4 Mansfield 0 – Neil Allen’s match report

Noel Hunt scores his first goal for Pompey in yesterday's 4-0 win against Mansfield Picture: Joe Pepler
Noel Hunt scores his first goal for Pompey in yesterday's 4-0 win against Mansfield Picture: Joe Pepler
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The cracks were treated to a last-minute papering over at Fratton Park.

A 4-0 victory, fourth in the table and four points off second spot can neatly sum up Pompey’s present position.

Amid the Mansfield canter, however, the boos were unmistakable and brutal in their delivery. No emphatic result could mask their galling presence.

On Saturday, a simmering undercurrent of dissatisfaction among sections of the Fratton faithful erupted with startling force.

And with it demonstrated a passionate level of expectancy which unsettled many of those in attendance.

Certainly the power of the hostility directed towards a side 1-0 up with around 10 minutes remaining alarmed those in the Pompey dressing room and Fratton board room.

Unquestionably, a fifth campaign in the bottom division of the Football League would be a seismic disaster, particularly considering the size of playing investment.

Not that 16 games into the season Paul Cook’s men are even remotely close to that doomsday scenario.

Still, Saturday provided a largely unheard of occasion when Blues followers turned on their team while comfortably maintaining a winning position.

Granted, the motives can be understood, football is an emotional process and underachievement has been an unwanted work colleague for too long.

Nonetheless, such actions from a Pompey crowd was simply astonishing.

And the subsequent 4-0 victory cannot possibly wash away the discontent which so clearly resides among members of the support.

Widespread denouncement of the boos followed in the aftermath of victory, social media crackling with condemnation.

Meanwhile, during their post-match addresses, Carl Baker and Noel Hunt applied masks of professionalism to talk about understanding the fan reaction and sympathising with frustration.

A unusually downbeat Cook sucked the emotion out of his interviews, the matter-of-fact approach attempting to disguise a man stung from what had unfolded among supporters.

The gloss had been scrubbed off a handsome victory and it was harsh, so undeservedly harsh.

Carelessness in front of goal had prevented an earlier landslide against Mansfield rather than absence of effort or lack of commitment.

Stalled at 1-0, this was not a Blues outfit going through the motions, content to settle for a narrow victory against a team which, from the 74th minute onwards, operated with nine men.

Instead they displayed a patient approach to picking apart the visitors, prodding and probing in search of a crack to ruthlessly exploit.

It was a measured mindset which attracted vocal criticism from their own and a backlash which remained painful long after the final whistle.

Those supporters involved will testify they are within their rights as paying customers to voice their opinion whichever way they prefer. Correct.

However, the manner and circumstances in which it was executed on Saturday was totally unnecessary – and not remotely deserved by those players.

The boos were present when Kal Naismith launched the build-up to the crucial second goal, yet he maintained his forward drive to set-up Noel Hunt on 84 minutes.

The substitute’s subsequent emotional response towards the South stand reflected his thoughts on such home hostility.

Admittedly, victory over the Stags was not a Pompey performance to purr about, while it took far too long to seal victory considering their dominance and later numerical advantage.

Yet it was back to winning ways after successive Fratton Park league defeats and a result thoroughly deserved in wretched playing conditions.

In the process, the players who achieved that 4-0 triumph had to negotiate a number of boos cascading down from a stands housing a home supporters.

It was uncalled for. Most unlike the Fratton faithful.

Following two cup excursions since the last league outing against Cambridge United, there was just the one change to that side which won at the Abbey Stadium.

Danny Rose was restored to the midfield in place of the suspended Amine Linganzi, conjuring up an outstanding display in the process.

On that U’s occasion, the Blues had to negotiate retaining victory with 10-men – on Saturday they had to capitalise on such an advantage.

The scoring was opened in the 11th minute when Stags striker Matt Green slid in on Kyle Bennett inside the penalty area.

His momentum on the skiddy surface clattered into the winger and referee Roger East selected a spot kick as the outcome, Gary Roberts netting.

The incessant rainfall and a drenched pitch made football difficult at times, with players slipping over and passes hard to accurately judge.

Still, the Blues had a let-off on 28 minutes when the impressive Ashley Hemmings’ cross from the left was met with the head of James Baxendale, only to strike the far post.

Just nine minutes later, Carl Baker endured the same fate, cutting in from the left and firing a right-foot shot against the foot of the far post.

Mansfield had threatened during those opening 45 minutes, yet in the second half the hosts seized control of proceedings, even before the dismissals.

Scott Shearer pushed over Bennett’s fierce drive, while Conor Chaplin should have netted after put clean through by Michael Doyle.

Then, on 57 minutes, Kyle Howkins picked up a second yellow card in four minutes with a mindless challenge on Bennett down the left channel.

Yet the goals did not flow for Pompey and the lead worryingly remained precarious, Roberts the latest not to capitalise, dragging a shot wide from six yards.

On 74 minutes, substitute Alex Iacovitti received a red card for a high challenge on Doyle after overrunning the ball.

Cook brought on Hunt and Naismith, keeping Chaplin up front, yet soon home frustrations boiled over.

Then came Hunt’s crucial contribution for a first Pompey goal to effectively seal the match.

It was left for Baker to strike twice in the final two minutes with classy angled finishes, one on his right foot and the other on his left.

Emphatic for Pompey – yet the aftertaste was distinctly bitter.