Pompey returned to form in rampant Rovers victory – Jeff Marshman looks at what we learnt from the win...
Watch out Wallace
Could a midfielder be set to top Pompey’s goalscoring charts for a second successive season?
Well, if the campaign ended today that is precisely what would happen.
Gareth Evans is unlikely to match Jed Wallace’s 17-goal tally from last term.
But the in-form winger may yet go close to Wallace’s 14 league strikes, after notching his eighth goal in Saturday’s 3-1 League Two win over Bristol Rovers.
That effort saw the former Fleetwood man double his tally from last season and draw level with strike duo Conor Chaplin and Marc McNulty in the scoring charts.
Evans, though, is recognised as the club’s top goalscorer, owing to the fact he has saved all of his efforts for league duty, with Chaplin and McNulty also on target in cup competitions.
Indeed, only the dubious goals committee have deprived Evans from sitting all alone at the top of the pile.
They ruled Pompey’s first goal in the 3-2 defeat at Leyton Orient on Boxing Day was a Conor Essam own goal – something the Blues midfielder strongly contests.
Common sense suggests Chaplin or McNulty will be more likely to claim golden boot honours at the club, but the midfielder’s contribution has been most welcome.
And it is Evans’ all-round team contribution which has made him an instant fans’ favourite on the south coast.
His work-rate and industry has been a big factor in the success Pompey have had this season, playing Paul Cook’s high-tempo pressing and passing style of football.
And never was more evident than on Saturday, when Evans got the ball rolling for the Blues against Rovers.
A trademark lung-busting run into the box was matched by a cute lobbed finish as the 27-year-old set the hosts on their way to a priceless win.
Blues back to their best in rampant Rovers win
Heading into Saturday’s showdown with fellow promotion rivals Bristol Rovers, the pressure was on Paul Cook’s side.
A three-game winless run in League Two saw Pompey slip out of the play-off places for the first time all season as murmurs of discontent around team selection and formations began to surface from fans.
Cook let it be known beforehand he wanted the Fratton faithful to judge the Blues on their performances.
And they served up the perfect response to their disappointing Leyton Orient defeat to put a good Rovers side to the sword in a 3-1 win at Fratton Park.
Ben Davies and Gareth Evans, both given a rest last time out, combined brilliantly for the first goal.
And new arrival Michael Smith capped a lively display in a lone-striker’s role with a towering header – his first for Pompey.
By the time fellow front man Marc McNulty rose from the bench to net a third for the hosts 13 minutes from time, any thoughts of the previous weekend’s misery had been long forgotten.
Rovers boss Darrell Clarke summed up the esteem with which Cook’s side are held by the rest of the division when stating any team who finishes above Pompey this season will be promoted.
And with displays like Saturday, there is little reason to question why the Blues can’t end this roller-coaster season on a high.
Pompey living proof a lot can change in a year
They say a lot can change in a year.
Rarely could a saying be truer at Pompey.
One year ago on the same February weekend, the Blues played host to Exeter at Fratton Park.
The game ended in a dramatic 1-0 victory for Pompey, with Jed Wallace going from zero to hero with a last-minute winner, after his earlier penalty miss.
Remarkably, though, of the 13 players involved for the Blues that day, none of them took to the field for Pompey in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Bristol Rovers.
Indeed, youngster Conor Chaplin was the only member of Andy Awford’s match-day 16 who remained one year on.
Of course, the likes of Adam Webster and Ben Close, who started the weekend’s win over the Gas, were also on the Blues’ books at the time but it’s a startling statistic nonetheless.
Aside from Chaplin, fellow survivors Paul Jones, Jack Whatmough and Matt Tubbs are out on loan, with Danny Hollands sidelined by injury.
Bu,t in truth, it has been all change under Paul Cook.
And, ultimately, should Pompey not achieve their goal of promotion this season, it will be his team which fails to do so.
Cook has been well backed by the board this season to get the Blues up to League One, and Saturday’s morale-boosting win has put them back on course.
Let’s hope his much-changed side can rise to the challenge presented by the final 17 games.
Pompey v Exeter – FebRUARY 14, 2015 (3-5-2) Jones; Devera, Robinson, Whatmough; Passley (Barcham, 45), Dunne, Hollands, Wallace (Atangana 90) Butler; Taylor, Tubbs Unused subs: Poke, Chorley, Ertl, Westcarr, Chaplin