What we learnt from Pompey’s defeat to Plymouth

Gary Roberts goes for goal against Plymouth Picture: Joe Pepler
Gary Roberts goes for goal against Plymouth Picture: Joe Pepler
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Jordan Cross looks back on the 2-1 loss to the Pilgrims and gives us an insight into what we can take from the game.

Sloppiness at the back coupled with profligacy up top

Five minutes of madness was how Paul Cook described it.

It was actually two minutes of temporary insanity as Pompey stole defeat from the jaws of victory in Saturday’s crucial promotion battle with Plymouth.

As Michael Doyle put it, you can afford to have such moments of sloppiness – but only if you take your chances.

Fingers will be pointed at keeper Paul Jones for the goals which sent the Blues to such a costly loss.

He certainly should have done better coming for the corner which Jamille Matt headed home in the 84th minute, although he was exposed for Gregg Wylde’s winner which was put through his legs.

It’s telling, however, Pompey clocked up 11 shots to Plymouth’s four and ended up losing.

Enda Stevens and Gary Roberts had chances which were created by their own quality before Michael Smith’s goal.

Danny Hollands was slightly unfortunate with a deflected 20-yarder after the break.

Christian Burgess should have done better with an effort from six yards, though.

Smith’s goal was brave but he also found himself in good positions late on and failed to do better with chances.

Too often there was lack of quality and care with the final pass when Paul Cook’s side were in advanced positions.

And that was key in Pompey ending up in a losing position from a place of control.

Such profligacy, as Doyle highlighted, cannot continue if there is to be a happy ending to the season.

Another wasted opportunity

There was much which hurt about Pompey falling to such a critical defeat to Plymouth.

But nothing quite like looking at the other results around League Two at 4.50pm on Saturday.

Oxford United falling to defeat at home to Luton and, crucially, Accrington Stanley drawing at home to a Morecambe side in poor form.

They were results which would have put the automatic promotion destiny in the hands of Paul Cook’s side with three points.

That is what Cook has been so desperate to see with six games left.

The chance was there – and Pompey wasted the opportunity. Again.

A three-point gap to the top three with a game in hand and a tasty goal difference is how it would’ve looked.

Now it’s six points with five to go and the Blues still hoping for others to slip up.

Only five wins from five will do now if Pompey are to avoid the end-of-season lottery of the play-offs.

It’s achieveable for a team which shows a modicum of consistency – but Pompey have too often failed to take the chances handed to them by their rivals.

Hollands means business

For 84 minutes it was a performance which possessed plenty of positives.

Pompey’s big-game players stepping up in the shape of Gary Roberts and Kyle Bennett.

And a back line which looked largely comfortable containing the threat of Plymouth, as they showed why they have improved to have League Two’s best defensive record.

But there was no bigger box tick in the efforts of Paul Cook’s side than the dogged efforts of Danny Hollands in the middle of the park.

Alongside the similarly forceful display of Michael Doyle, Hollands was immense.

Time and again – particularly in the first half – it was the former Chelsea trainee who destroyed Plymouth’s effort to threaten.

It was Hollands who put his foot in. It was Hollands who hassled and harried. It was Hollands ate up the yards to deny the opposition the space to create.

After seemingly being out of favour earlier in the season, this was the 30-year-old’s 10th start on the bounce.

For much of the season Ben Davies has produced the form of a man on the way to player-of-the-year plaudits.

As we’ve arrived at the business end of the campaign, Doyle has come to the fore as player who steps up when it’s business time.

But Hollands’ understated yet effective approach means he’s now not too far behind his team-mates when it comes to Pompey’s top performers.