Shrewsbury 3 Pompey 2

Patrick Agyemang celebrates scoring Pompey's second goal. Picture: Joe Pepler
Patrick Agyemang celebrates scoring Pompey's second goal. Picture: Joe Pepler
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Josh Yorwerth in action for Crawley. Picture: Steve Robards

Pompey target is ‘too good for League Two’

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As Guy Whittingham poured over Pompey’s Shrewsbury failings, two beach balls bounced merrily by.

Right there a microcosm of a campaign of contrasts, a season of contradictions.

At the Greenhous Stadium there was hail and sunshine, officious policing and relaxed stewarding and, of course, the first and second halves.

It has been a campaign of diversity and extremes which has ultimately resulted in a second-successive relegation and League Two football for the Blues come August 3.

Yet while Saturday finished on a low with a 3-2 defeat, those 1,620 travelling supporters were ending it on a heady high.

During a wretched first half from Whittingham’s men, the Shrewsbury fans goaded the visitors with barbs centred on their lowly finish and tumble through the League One trapdoor.

They couldn’t have anticipated the response being ‘that’s why we’re going down’, a rendition greeted by a respectful round of applause at one point from the home supporters.

It wasn’t meant to be a day of mourning, it was an occasion to celebrate. Forget drowning sorrows, it was a toast to the future.

Inflatables careered around the away end, helpfully tossed back by ever-obliging stewards whenever they dared to encroach on to the playing surface.

Shaggy and Scooby Doo danced, two Oompah Loompahs jigged, an enthusiastic Andy Pandy and Looby Loo were not watching with mother and Batman and Robin punched the air rather than villains.

There was even a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle present with, fittingly, Ertl written on his shell as a nod of respect to the The News’ player of the season.

Such had been the demand among Pompey fans for the season finale, many had bought corporate tickets and settled just in front of the press box for an often-raucous presence.

This from a club who were relegated even before they were slapped with a 10-point deduction which has seen them finish bottom with daylight to spare.

A maiden trip to the Shrews’ new home was never about the result, it was more a party in the present to revel in what lies ahead for a fan-owned club now spared from the jaws of smiling crocodiles.

Relegation is not a punishment, it is merely a welcome cleansing and the chance to start afresh in the rebuilding of a famous old club.

Of course, while the supporters will be back for the challenges ahead, the fear is some of those Pompey players on display on Saturday will not be.

Unbeknown to us now, but looking back in months to come, it will have proven to be their swansong.

Speculation will inevitably centre on Jed Wallace, the highly-coveted asset and second-half inspiration for what was almost an improbable comeback.

Forget Pompey taking up the 12-month option to retain him a while longer, the likelihood is the 19-year-old is on his way, with Brighton ahead of Bournemouth in the chase.

Whittingham himself isn’t convinced if the goalscoring midfielder will be around next term.

A telling opinion from somebody who clearly knows more than most of current developments behind the scenes.

Still, at least that option does ensure the Blues will receive a fee should Wallace up sticks and choose somewhere else and another division to play his football.

It will be an early test of the club’s new-look leadership just how much money they can raise from any potential sale.

Then again, it cannot be handled any worse than Asmir Begovic’s departure, with the failure to insert a sell-on clause no doubt going to be a talking point again this summer.

Wallace, though, in potentially his farewell Pompey appearance, grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck on the hour mark and at least helped narrow what was an emphatic scoreline at the time.

The introduction of Adam Webster for Gabor Gyepes also prompted a tactical reshuffle with wing-backs employed and Wallace given a more central-attacking role.

Within 60 seconds the former Lewes man drove in a shot which was partially stopped by Chris Weale and Ashley Harris followed up to squeeze the ball home.

Whittingham revealed David Connolly had stepped aside to allow Harris a rare start.

For the Purbrook youngster it was a massive boost in a season which, on a personal level, had promised so much but petered out with other Academy products surging past him.

However, in his first start in almost three months Harris had his goal – capping an encouraging second-half display which can hopefully be built on in League Two.

Then in the 78th minute, that man Wallace found enough room in the box to surge forward and deliver a low cross which was steered home by Patrick Agyemang to spark thoughts of a shock comeback.

For Whittingham’s troops, though, the third goal was not forthcoming, even with four minutes of added time.

Not that, in truth, they particularly deserved a draw following an underwhelming opening 45 minutes which completely contrasted their performances of recent months.

Sloppy, uninspired and careless, Pompey were unable to test the Shrewsbury keeper, while the hosts established a two-goal lead.

It was Connor Goldson who broke the deadlock on six minutes when he was granted a free header from Jon Taylor’s left-wing corner.

Dave McAllister then had a goal ruled out for offside before Joe Jacobson’s 37th-minute free-kick took a wicked deflection off the wall to leave a wrong-footed Simon Eastwood no chance.

Matters worsened in the 56th minute when Akwasi Asante turned and drilled in a shot which flicked off Sam Sodje.

Again it was a telling deflection and the Blues were 3-0 down and facing a heavy, heavy defeat.

Then came the substitution, the system tinkering and the change which almost turned the match on its head.

Pompey were the ones who finished the match on the high, their fans jubilant, tossing beach balls and inflatables around while giving the players and boss a standing ovation.

Of course, they had just lost the last game in a season which has seen them take bottom spot and suffer relegation.

Certainly nothing to be cheerful about. Except nothing has been straight forward in a topsy-turvy campaign full of contradictions.

So onwards it is for a League Two tour – and those Pompey fans really couldn’t be happier.