Paul Jones is back in favour as Michael Smith helps Blues to three points. Jordan Cross analyses Saturday’s game...
Blues apply pressure
Paul Cook called for Pompey to apply the pressure to make Carlisle wilt.
And it was an approach which eventually harvested a result which is seeing the Blues’ quiet momentum build.
Cook is asking for his players to evolve the way they are playing, with the stakes raised in the bid to get out of the division.
That meant forcing mistakes from their opponents to carve out the openings they craved.
In doing so, Pompey have adopted a more direct approach and put less emphasis on the possession-based game which has been their hallmark.
It was a 50-50 split at the weekend. The Blues, on most occasions, have dominated the ball this season.
Saturday’s performance was undoubtedly one which grew as the game wore on.
The players were executing the game plan to the letter from the outset, however.
It was evident the pressing was high as they turned around Keith Curle’s side and went hunting in packs for force errors from them.
After a reasonably fast start, the tempo in their passing was lacking in the first half, though.
That noticeably changed after the break as Pompey went through the gears and began moving the ball with greater energy and vim.
Importantly, the crowd responded to that and an undoubted sense of purpose gathered as the volume went up.
The home fans could see the players putting in a shift, as assistant manager Leam Richardson pointed out after, and reacted to that positively.
In the end the stats tell of 20 shots on goals across the 90 minutes. A decent return.
Yes, there was late fortune as Carlisle missed chances to get a return to the game.
But there is an understated feeling this result could be seminal in the season.
Smudge is now really starting to make mark
Michael Smith is coming to the boil at just the right time for Pompey.
And that is going to be crucial to hopes of success over the final seven games of the campaign.
Smith’s goal made the difference against Carlisle and, crucially, would have provided his growing confidence with an extra injection of belief.
For the second match, his all-round game has also proved key to the win.
It was a display which improved with his team’s own performance.
Too often in the first half, balls angled in to the 6ft 4in hitman weren’t accurate enough to give him a chance of utilising his hold-up play.
That changed after the break as Paul Cook’s side played with greater energy in their passing.
Smith’s goal was an expert piece of goal poaching, as he snaffled away the ball after Carlisle keeper Mark Gillespie made a mess of Kyle Bennett’s 20-yard drive.
The manner in which he hit further shots, particularly an angled drive which went narrowly over late on, suggests there’s now conviction in his football.
The jury has been out on the 24-year-old since arriving from Swindon on a 93-day loan.
Cook asked for time to allow the man who scored 18 goals in League One last season to settle. Now we are beginning to see the benefits of exercising that patience.
Pompey keepers have to keep up with Jones
A few weeks ago it would have been a fair bet to say Paul Jones had played his last game for Pompey.
Two games, two clean sheets and a couple of efficient performances later and the No1 shirt is his to lose.
That shows that when Paul Cook says the door is never closed for his squad he really does mean it.
It would have been an easy decision to restore Ryan Fulton to the starting XI against Carlisle on Saturday.
Yes, Jones didn’t concede in the 4-0 romp against Notts County last time out, but he was hardly at the centre of the action either.
Fulton has a big reputation, is expected to play games after arriving from Liverpool, and has established a strong reputation in his 13 appearances for Pompey.
The debacle over Fulton being refused permission to play against the Magpies, after expressing a desire to do so instead of turning out for Scotland under-21s, has presented Jones with his chance.
That saw him recalled from Crawley where he has built momentum with four clean sheets in eight appearances.
His weekend display was again a no-frills effort, with one smart, smothering, first-half save his best moment.
There was some exasperation from Cook at his distribution from the sidelines, but his handling and punching from corners was dominant.
Now, as assistant boss Leam Richardson admitted after Saturday’s game, he is at the head of the goalkeeping queue.