Jordan Cross assesses Pompey’s performance in their 3-0 win against Crawley and sees what we learnt from the game
He teased us with the suggestion it was time to heed the cries for two strikers up front.
In the event, Paul Cook went with one recognised forward against Crawley – and saw his team smash in three goals in 37 minutes.
Curtis Main got the nod to continue up front after league starts against Colchester and Exeter.
It highlighted Cook’s insistence team selection is assessed ahead of time, and was considered before Michael Smith’s midweek hat-trick at Yeovil.
That meant Smith had to settle for a place on the bench – something Cook made no apology for when quizzed on the subject.
‘It was harder not to get Noel Hunt on,’ was Cook’s response when asked after the game if it was tough to leave Smith out.
And no place for Pompey darling Conor Chaplin, too, as he had to settle for 25 minutes off the bench as Main was given a standing ovation on his exit.
It may have been lost on many Blues fans that their cries for two strikers was, in part, recognised, too.
The formation may have been Cook’s preferred 4-2-3-1 to start, but Gary Roberts was pushed right up alongside Main for spells. And the finale saw Smith partnered alongside Chaplin up top.
More important than any formation was the penetration and vim Pompey played with, though.
The signs were concerning as Adi Yussuf skipped past him for the second time in quick succession.
Gareth Evans had been handed a testing baptism on his league return, after three-and-a-half months out with ankle and knee injuries from Carl McHugh’s tackle at Plymouth.
Evans had been tasked with filling in at right-back, with Pompey not possessing a fit player in that position after Drew Talbot picked up a hamstring injury.
It looked like it could be a long afternoon for the attacking talent on the evidence of the early portion of the game.
Evans, however, shrugged off the early blips, refused to let it rock him and went on to produce an impressive performance.
The 28-year-old’s energy caught the eye as he grafted tirelessly for 90 minutes, sticking to his defensive duties and joining in on the overlap whenever possible.
It was the tenacious nature of Evans’ performance which increasingly impressed, too, as he battled to win the ball and snapped at heels and forced Crawley into mistakes.
Cook’s assessment he was arguably Pompey’s best performer was easy to agree with.
Press! Press! Press!
The gravelly Scouse tones of Paul Cook were clearly audible around Fratton Park, as he belted out his familiar refrain from the edge of the technical area.
And the manner in which his players set about doing that to Crawley from the outset on Saturday was key to victory.
The visitors were continually hassled and harried into mistakes.
They were caught on the ball time and again. Pompey didn’t give them a moment’s peace.
That was most significantly seen when Danny Rose tore into defender Alex Davey after 12 minutes.
Gary Roberts feasted on the loose ball and emphatically dispatched it past keeper Yusuf Mersin from 12 yards.
It wasn’t just the Blues’ pressing which was so compelling and important to their success, though.
The tempo and pace in which they moved the ball was also a major factor in success.
Cook’s sides tend to dominate possession.
That was something they didn’t actually do on this occasion against Crawley, though.
The manner in which they quickened their passing, however, continually opened up the visitors in dangerous areas.
Those two factors proved the major ones in the most impressive success of the season.