The touch of class to live long in Pompey affection

Carl Baker celebrates Pompey winning the League Two title. Picture: Joe Pepler
Carl Baker celebrates Pompey winning the League Two title. Picture: Joe Pepler
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A pinch of class, a dash of quality, there was no mistaking Carl Baker’s winning ingredients.

They could be glimpsed in his treasured ability to strike a ball effectively with either foot, certainly unbefitting the League Two coalface.

Despite favouring his right and patrolling that corresponding flank, the majority of the midfielder’s nine Blues goals emanated from his left foot.

Then there was last weekend’s inclination to reside among the travelling Pompey fans at the DW Stadium to urge on his team-mates.

Days earlier, Baker had been informed by Kenny Jackett that he possessed no Fratton Park future – despite a contract stating otherwise.

Undoubtedly bruised by recent developments, yet those supporters encountering him spoke of an approachable and courteous character, willing to give them time and spare a conversation.

It is heartening to uncover a footballer as cultured off the field of play as his performances on it.

Still, Baker’s Pompey residence ended by mutual consent on deadline day, another of the title-winners have moved on since that glorious May day.

The exits of Michael Doyle and Enda Stevens were sealed before Jackett’s arrival.

The departures of Gary Roberts and now Baker occurred with the manager’s emphatic blessing.

The former MK Dons favourite missed just one league fixture last term, an absence at Hartlepool influenced by a hamstring injury.

Like Doyle, Stevens and Roberts, he formed the backbone of a team whose legacy was to ensure Pompey became only the fifth team in Football League history to capture the crowns of all four divisions.

With 45 league appearances, nine goals and nine assists, only Kal Naismith and Roberts outscored the right-sided midfielder. Baker was truly another pivotal presence whose contributions never short-changed the club.

Granted, he lacked cast-iron consistency, a burden creative players often bear irrespective of their footballing backdrop or differing levels of talent.

It could be reasonably argued he never quite surfed the towering waves anticipated of him upon his south-coast arrival. Although, on occasions, that pinnacle was definitely glimpsed.

Nonetheless, the 34-year-old’s standing as one of the fittest at the club – and a body fat content to envy his colleagues – ensured he was always a willing contributor to the battle.

And when Pompey required him the most, Baker strode forward to deliver magnificently.

At Mansfield in the penultimate League Two game, with an off-colour Blues scrambling to fend off Steve Evans’ side, it was the ex-Coventry skipper who was instrumental in an archetypal smash and grab.

On 56 minutes, he exchanged passes with Naismith down the left, before cushioning the ball on his head, bringing it back to terra firma and swivelling to fire a wonderfully-fluent right-footed shot into the net.

During a campaign in which the league title was decided on goal difference, that match-winning contribution in a below-par team display was priceless.

Similarly, there were the right-foot, left-foot finishes cutting in from the right flank during an unpleasant home atmosphere as the Blues toiled against nine-man Mansfield in November 2016.

Merely gloss to an unassailable 2-0 scoreline, yet those two strikes in the final two minutes helped sooth the friction inside Fratton Park.

Elsewhere, don’t forget two assists to defeat Leyton Orient 2-1 in January 2017. Incidentally, Baker’s corner from the left was headed home by match-winner Christian Burgess in the October 2016 reverse fixture.

Not ignoring a debut goal against Carlisle, that near-post finish high into the roof’s net in the 4-0 romp over Grimsby and calmly steering home the opener in home victory over Cambridge United in April 2017.

Of course, as the campaign approached its memorable finale, the emergence of Jamal Lowe was clearly impeding the match minutes of Baker.

The veteran last completed 90 minutes in the late-March, a 2-1 win over Newport County. Lowe replaced him from the bench during five of his final six games last term, most notably at Notts County where the Hampton & Richmond arrival etched his name in Fratton folklore.

With the scoreline at 1-1 and Baker now residing in the dugout, Lowe netted twice in 13 minutes to secure automatic promotion amid emotional Meadow Lane scenes.

The subsequent departure of Paul Cook initially suggested Baker could reverse that slide out of the first-team with a new man at the helm in Jackett.

Yet attempts to convert him into a holding midfielder didn’t quite come to fruition for a genuine wideman with excellent ability to cross the ball.

Besides, the transformation was driven by the necessity to relocate due to right-sided competition from Lowe, Gareth Evans and Milan Lalkovic, rather than Baker’s overriding suitability.

Then there were those Coventry links, dogged and unabating from towards the end of last season. The interest was mutual.

The May departure of car-share companion Michael Doyle condemned Baker to lonely trips along the M40 to his family home near Solihull, while wife Lynsey is expecting their third child, another boy.

Although it is suggested the midfielder has now shocked his long-time Sky Blue suitors by instead using his newly-acquired freedom of contract to join a club in India.

Regardless, Baker’s Pompey legacy stands impressively at 50 appearances, nine goals, nine assists and a League Two title medal.

And that ensures he will forever retain the Fratton faithful’s affection.