It was an night of hurt which will take time to heal – Jordan Cross carries out the Pompey play-off post-mortem
A fatal Achilles heel
It’s proved costly – and finally fatal.
Pompey’s Achilles heel this season has been their penchant for conceding late goals.
Eight points were dropped from winning positions by goals conceded in stoppage-time this season.
That’s arrived with a whopping 16 goals being shipped in the final 10 minutes of games.
But nothing remotely as painful as what unfolded with 91-plus minutes on the clock at Home Park.
Plymouth had been knocking the door with time ticking down.
Jamille Matt had passed up two opportunities and Jake Jervis headed against the post as the Pilgrims came on strong in the second half.
Then Ryan Allsop’s reaction save from Matt’s header looked to have done enough to bring about extra-time.
The warning signs went unheeded, however.
Graham Carey’s quality had been a constant menace all evening for Paul Cook’s side.
The delivery from the corner which came about from Allsop’s save was again out of the top drawer.
The loanee keeper failed to get off the ground as Peter Hartley rose high with Enda Stevens.
There was still an air of fortune about the manner in which the ball was met by the Pilgrims defender and ricocheted off Stevens, before a further touch from Hartley forced it home.
Ultimately, though, Pompey had failed to react to what was developing before our eyes. The goal had been coming.
So Hartley joins Brown (Bristol Rovers), Berry (Cambridge), Williams (Stevenage), Grainger (Carlisle), Roche (Morecambe) and Watkins (Exeter) as stoppage-time goal-getters against the Blues.
The final act of Pompey’s season will, sadly, be the one remembered, though.
Watching warm-up made Blues fear the worst
Watching Pompey’s players warm up filled you full of dread.
Conor Chaplin shuffled around like he was an old man.
Danny Hollands, whose gait is never the most athletic looking at the best of times, was hunched as he attempted to disguise his pain.
Adam Barton, Ben Davies and Enda Stevens were all carrying problems which would probably have left them in the stands on other occasions.
Matt Clarke and Adam Webster failed to make it and they were joined on the sidelines by the raft of injured goalkeepers.
Marc McNulty and Kyle Bennett were back from hamstring and foot injuries respectively, but short of match fitness.
It was clear this was a Blues squad at breaking point going into their biggest game in years.
Typically, on such an occasion, two major injuries in the first half compounded the issue.
Carl McHugh’s nasty lunge at Gareth Evans curtailed his involvement and he was followed down the Home Park tunnel by Hollands after an awkward fall.
So a disjointed effort ensued, with the influence of too many players below what was needed.
Gary Roberts’ influence waned. Likewise, the initially bright Kyle Bennett. Adam McGurk’s never surfaced. Marc McNulty was fed scraps.
There are no excuses – and nor would Paul Cook offer them.
But, in the end, Pompey’s performance reflected their circumstances.
Plymouth the deserved victors in final chapter
It was the fourth chapter of a narrative with all the twists and turns of a James Patterson thriller.
And from the first encounter back in August, the drama had gathered in pace and excitement, culminating in their play-off showdown.
In each of the three previous instalments there was a strong case to say it was Paul Cook’s side who were superior performers.
But there was little doubt it was Plymouth who were deserved victors in the final stanza of this dramatic tale.
Back in August, the Blues purred as they served up one of their best performances of the season at Home Park. A 2-1 victory failed to tell the tale of Pompey’s dominance.
The return at Fratton Park had Pompey in front and looking comfortable. Two crazy minutes wrecked that but, overall, the performance was decent.
Then came last Thursday’s play-off first leg. It was a fast Pompey start before Plymouth had their best spell. The second half was a story of Blues dominance, though.
This time a cagey and even 45 minutes evolved into a story of Plymouth control.
Circumstances left Paul Cook with few places to turn and, as he admitted, a feeling of powerlessness on the sidelines.
There was never a firm grasp on the game. At best, Pompey were in it by their fingernails.