Pompey 4 Wycombe 2 – Neil Allen’s match report

Conor Chaplin sends his looping header into the back of the net Picture: Joe Pepler
Conor Chaplin sends his looping header into the back of the net Picture: Joe Pepler
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While Gareth Ainsworth ranted, Fratton Park raved.

The old girl had staged one of her finest goals, a heavenly finish from Conor Chaplin to transcend its League Two backdrop.

Not that Wycombe’s manager was in any mood to salivate over the sublime moment so gloriously played out in his presence.

Ainsworth’s focus centred on the match officials and their perceived failure to not cite Gary Roberts for handball earlier in the move.

Such was his strength of protest towards referee Tim Robinson, Paul Cook nudged off the bonds of his technical area to serve as peacemaker.

Poor Ainsworth, sadly oblivious to the remarkable artistry behind a goal whose true beauty had escaped his eyes.

What’s more, there was a delectable irony of its arrival during four minutes of time added on, of which a large chunk had been created by his own side’s theatrical nature.

Still, while Wycombe’s manager maintained his futile remonstration, Fratton Park rejoiced at the genius of Chaplin and a majestic scoring moment in Fratton history.

There will have been far more important occasions down Frogmore Road, involving considerably higher-profile footballers during the venue’s 118-year existence.

Certainly in modern parlance, few goals could possibly keep pace with Chaplin’s wondrous first-half contribution on Saturday.

In the process, it dragged Pompey on course for a fourth successive victory to continue an encouraging climb up the League Two table which presently has paused at second place.

Galloping down the left to capture Roberts’ pass, the 19-year-old arrived at the ball a fraction before the hurtling figure of Anthony Stewart, sending it aerially with his left foot.

The forward then calmly waited for it to resurface, before delivering a header from a tight angle roughly level with the six-yard box.

Jamal Blackman, on loan from Chelsea and sporting a Davy Crockett hat-inspired hairstyle, was rooted at his near post as the ball flew over his head to be convincingly beaten.

A piece of genuine class from Chaplin, a player many have clamoured to be included in Cook’s starting line-up since the campaign launched.

Indeed, the Worthing youngster was only present at that stage after a facial injury to Curtis Main had forced him off on 25 minutes.

Pompey’s boss elected to replace last weekend’s two-goal striker with Chaplin ahead of fellow bench rivals Michael Smith and Noel Hunt.

The outcome was a moment of stunning quality to hand the Blues a 3-2 impetus on the stroke of half-time – and send Ainsworth into convulsion.

Yet Chaplin’s contribution was not merely defined by his goal, his overall game was vitally influential during his outing on the Fratton pitch.

The Chairboys, in particular lumbering central defensive duo Stewart and Aaron Pierre, simply could not cope with his intelligence and movement.

On one occasion, shortly after half-time, the teenager popped up on the left to deliver a superb ball to the far post where Roberts was guilty of heading wide of an open net.

At least twice in the second half, strong shots on goal were dealt by Blackman, albeit unconvincingly on each occasion.

This was Chaplin making up for lost time, revelling in being granted his longest period in a League Two fixture this season – and it frightened Wycombe to death.

There remains a paranoia among some members of the Fratton faithful that Cook doesn’t regard the 19-year-old’s talent.

Granted, the Blues boss objects when the youngster Tweets his injury status during a match he is not participating in, nonetheless Chaplin possesses a delicious talent impossible not to recognise.

The timing requirement of easing the diminutive forward into senior football and crowbaring him into a system involving a lone striker has been a constant challenge for Cook.

Yet sometimes a player can put forward an argument so compelling that he can no longer be restrained.

Saturday was such an occasion for Chaplin.

He has been an outstanding impact player as a substitute under Cook with goals to show – now there is growing evidence he is ready to be promoted to a regular starting spot.

Not that Pompey are short of goals at present, seven in the last two home goals testify their attacking might.

The defence which previously registered three successive clean sheets looked a little shaky against Wycombe as Paul Hayes scored twice.

However, there remains a welcome cutting edge at the other end to auger well in the ongoing promotion push.

The Blues had fallen behind on 10 minutes when Garry Thompson half-volleyed a cross from the right perfectly into the path of Hayes to net.

Midfielder Sam Wood also sent a rising effort against the bar while the 10-man hosts were reorganising, with Main off the pitch receiving treatment on the head injury which culminated in his removal.

That, of course, would herald the entrance of Chaplin.

Yet it was Christian Burgess at the far post who levelled on 34 minutes, forcing home Gareth Evans’ deflected cross from the right.

Then, two minutes before the break, Sido Jombati handled Evans’ header at the far post to present Pompey with a penalty.

Roberts crashed home the spot kick to make it five goals in his last four matches, of which three have arrived from penalties.

Fratton Park was stunned to silence, though, when on the stroke of half-time they failed to clear their lines and Hayes powerfully drove in an angled equaliser from the right.

Then came Chaplin’s magical touch to give the Blues a 3-2 lead at the interval, assisted by Roberts and his upper arm.

The match was effectively wrapped up on 53 minutes when Enda Stevens crossed from the left and Carl Baker squeezed a left-foot half-volley inside the far post.

Results elsewhere left Cook’s troops one point off the top of League Two as their winning streak continues to be extended.

It's a run which has yielded positive home results by employing the 4-2-3-1 system which fails to convince some elements of the Fratton faithful.

However, similar repeated calls for Chaplin to be presented with a starting spot have surely now become a little more irresistible for Cook.