Portsmouth 3 Bristol Rovers 1: Jordan Cross' verdict as relentless Blues turn up heat on classless Barton

Some looked on the point of being physically sick, while others greeted Danny Cowley’s commands with pure contempt.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

The Pompey boss, however, was unmoved, his physical demands of his players as incessant and unrelenting as the brutal Spanish sunshine.

Quite frankly the Blues boss’ pre-season beasting of his players at the Pinatar Arena on the fringes of Murcia was not entirely popular in all quarters, as they quite literally felt the burn. In fact, to onlookers it looked borderline barbaric.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Yet, as his players tore into Bristol Rovers in the dying embers of Saturday afternoon’s showdown, and found the strength of character to align with their physical superiority the penny surely dropped.

‘In Spain we ran the boys really hard,’ the Pompey boss reflected of the Pinatar boot camp, in the aftermath of a victory which undoubtedly saw momentum continue to grow through Pompey’s cracking start to the campaign.

‘I said to them in there after the game, we do all that running and all that work for moments like that.

‘Because we are such a good group who are humble and really want to be the best they can be, they allow us to push them really hard.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

‘They always want more. They don’t always enjoy it, but they know the benefits - and everyone saw those benefits against Bristol Rovers.’

Danny CowleyDanny Cowley
Danny Cowley

Indeed, the stats show Pompey are the top scorers in the formative League One table, and the fact 12 of the 15 goals they’ve delivered this term arrived after the break pays further testament to the fact they are pummelling opponents into submission.

To find the cracks, however, the foe has to be softened up. And the way Cowley’s relentlessly set about Joey Barton’s side told everything about the philosophy which is underpinning their early-season success.

According to Joey Barton rant 4,054 4-4-2 apparently gets you nowhere, though. Yet the man who’s ‘never played football’ is overseeing a high-tempo, high-pressing approach which the erratic Scouser’s side couldn’t contend with for long periods.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The only frustration for Pompey was they didn’t return a greater tangible reward for dominance which stretched two-thirds of the encounter.

The Fratton fervour which has been a signifier of the season’s start, once again provided the soundtrack as the pressure was ramped up from the outset.

The likes of the impressive Owen Dale, Colby Bishop, Ronan Curtis and Michael Morrison couldn’t make more of openings of varying quality which came their way, however.

And there was a propensity for Cowley’s men to subsequently choose the wrong pass when their turnovers had the League One new boys on the ropes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It meant Connor Ogilvie’s bullet 32-minute corner from Michael Jacobs’ corner was the only tangible reward, before Curtis saw as 52nd-minute effort cleared off the line by the hitherto anonymous John Marquis on his latest Fratton return.

The Irishman, who epitomised Pompey’s desire after being thrust back into the forward line amid two changes, should have done better after turning over the ball moments later before seeing his eventual effort blocked for a corner.

For all the Blues’ comfort, failing to put the game to bed meant the door was ajar for the kind of uncharacteristic moment from Sean Raggett which allowed Rovers to level in the 61st minute.

Of course it was Marquis who would capitalise from the reigning player of the season overplaying, with Aaron Collins the recipient of the gift after the £1m man recovered the ball.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The moment presented another challenge for Pompey to conquer. And Cowley’s ability to now be able to send for the cavalry proved central to finding the solution.

Dane Scarlett, Reeco Hackett and, most ostensibly, Joe Pigott were to all have central impacts in snatching back the balance of power after their introductions.

Pigott was to prove the match-winner, as he won and then converted the 82nd-minute penalty which put the game to bed.

There was still time for Scarlett to zero a ball on to the head of Dale, who capped a man-of-the-match performance with his maiden Pompey goal as his side produced a sprint finish crafted in the heat of southern Spain at the start of last month.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

If squad depth was to play a central role in stretching an unbeaten home run to 202 days, so will it prove crucial in dealing with a moment which left a bitter taste even in the aftermath of a fourth successive victory.

You can debate the issue of intent following Glenn Whelan’s late lunge on Louis Thompson, which left thoughts with a midfield talent who’s faced wretched injury fortune in his career fearing a double leg break.

You can also discuss Gavin Ward’s decision to punish the tackle with a caution over dismissal, as Thompson was administered oxygen before being taken to hospital.

But even if there wasn’t a desire to inflict damage and the booking was the right response to a tackle with a single leg which appeared high but not particularly out of control, we are today left fearing for what could be for Thompson’s career as a result of the foul.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There was little humility from Barton in his post-match words, however, towards a man whose move to Fratton Park was motivated by a simple desire to enjoy playing football again after years in the treatment room.

Instead the bile spilled forth from the Rovers manager as he chose to take potshots at his opposite as they stood yards apart conducting post-match duties, before chuntering about settling the score down the road.

If they needed it, such a reaction was cast-iron evidence of a job well done by Cowley, his staff and players on a day where Pompey fans saw another performance firmly in their image.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.