AFC Wimbledon 1 Portsmouth 0: Neil Allen's verdict - Ghosts of managers past return to haunt under-fire Kenny Jackett

The Kingsmeadow ghosts hadn’t been exorcised, merely conserving their spirits for another chilling blast.

Sunday, 20th October 2019, 10:00 am
Updated Sunday, 20th October 2019, 6:32 pm

AFC Wimbledon’s home had once been an unhappy haunting ground for the Blues, providing portents of managerial demises.

The agonies of a 4-0 reverse in November 2013, inspired by the rampaging Michael Smith, prompted chairman Iain McInnes to storm out of the directors’ box, muttering an excuse about requiring the toilet. Not that he returned before full-time.

Guy Whittingham lasted one final fixture – a Fratton Park loss to Scunthorpe – before relieved of his duties.

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The following campaign witnessed Ben Chorley’s early own goal condemn the Blues to a 1-0 loss at the same venue in March 2015, leaving them 13th in League Two.

Boss Andy Awford remained for another 24 days before his time expired.

Subsequently, three-successive victories followed as Pompey fortunes accelerated, loyally accompanying escalating promotion ambition.

On Saturday, the horrors returned – and with them the weakening of Kenny Jackett’s ongoing Blues presence.

Pompey's players are in agony after Terell Thomas nets a last-gasp winner for AFC Wimbledon. Picture: Joe Pepler

Flanked by a steward, the 57-year-old trudged back in the direction of the dressing rooms at full-time, with chants of ‘We want Jackett out’ serenading his search for solitude.

Pompey’s boss is battling for his future, his position increasingly precarious in a campaign plummeting towards realms of disaster.

Owners Tornante may possess unwavering belief in their manager, yet the large swathes of 712 travelling support present on Saturday are demanding change.

It’s an overwhelming strength of feeling reflected across the Fratton faithful – with Tuesday night’s home clash against Lincoln looming ominously.

The Eisner family were not in attendance at Wimbledon and neither was chief executive Mark Catlin, currently partaking in a pre-planned trip abroad with his wife.

Nonetheless, it is reasonable to surmise their attention was trained through iFollow, witnessing the latest setback in a season unravelling alarmingly.

Granted, the Blues dominated possession and rattled off 22 goal attempts, albeit such statistics distract from the reality of poor quality in the final third.

It also took a goal three minutes into time added on from defender Terell Thomas, courtesy of a dead-ball situation, to settle matters 1-0 in the hosts’ favour.

Jackett’s men once again had their flaws, yet this was no wretched display, certainly not a repeat of so many other league displays during this stuttering season.

The visitors would have been disappointed with a point, once the balance of play could be rationally assessed. As it was, they didn’t even amass that many.

Certainly harsh. Suspending all negatively towards Jackett, those privy to the performance would surely accept the scoreline was entirely unwarranted.

Still, with pressure piling on their under-fire manager, it signified a brutal low blow to somebody already on his knees at present.

In the fight to convince supporters he remains the man to bring Championship football back to Fratton Park, the latest setback has seen more desert his corner.

Pompey are presently eight points short of the play-offs and two points ahead of a relegation zone shrunk to three members following Bury’s demise.

They are the joint-third lowest scorers in League One, even a Southend side nursing a mere five points have hit the back of the net more.

Curiously, the Blues posses the joint-second best defensive record, superior to nine of the top-10 clubs.

There is no suggestion that Kingsmeadow will mark Jackett’s last stand, yet indisputably he is locked on the same path towards destruction as predecessors Whittingham and Awford after incurring failures.

The former Millwall man is accurately aware he requires victories to wrestle matters back on track, certainly if he is also to re-establish himself among fans’ regard.

And he must do so armed with a demoralised squad seeping confidence, presently devoid of a cutting edge and frustratingly absent of an effective final ball.

This was a group of players assembled to surpass last term’s fourth-placed finish with a mighty 88 points. Presently they look considerably short of such lofty standards.

As a consequence, Jackett’s Pompey position is under intense scrutiny, certainly from those outside the club, whose agitation has understandably heightened after Saturday.

There were chances for the Blues to claim a crucial victory, however, the opportunity to strike was present, even if the ruthlessness was irritatingly removed.

Jackett had made three changes to the team smothered by Gillingham in a goalless draw the previous weekend, with Craig MacGillivray back from international duty the obviously inclusion.

Meanwhile, Brett Pitman’s groin problem saw a recall for John Marquis, while Ryan Williams entered for Ellis Harrison, serving wide on the right in a 4-2-3-1 system.

That allowed Gareth Evans to mark his 200th Blues appearance in the number 10 role behind lone striker Marquis, although perhaps harsh on Harrison.

Still, during an encouraging opening 45 minutes, Marquis shot agonisingly past the far post when faced with an onrushing keeper, while James Bolton’s cross was headed over by Tom Naylor when he should have scored.

Christian Burgess struck the bar following a pinpoint deep left-sided cross from Lee Brown, while Evans saw a left-footed shot parried by Nathan Trott, but nobody on hand to tap home.

As against Gillingham, the Blues failed to make their purple period count, yet still managed to threaten on occasions after the interval.

Having said that, Craig MacGillivray’s flying stop prevented Max Sanders’ free-kick on the edge of the area, while Anthony Wordsworth smacked a shot against the inside of the far post.

Regardless, pepped by the introductions of Harrison and Ronan Curtis from the bench, the visitors suggested they would be the more likely to find the winner.

Then, on 93 minutes, the troublesome Joe Pigott won another free-kick down the left, which was delivered by Sanders towards the far post.

It was met by Thomas, with a thumping header, and the hosts celebrated only a third win in 14 League One outings this season.

This defiant Wimbledon team, whose manager, Wally Downes, is currently suspended for betting on football matches, rejoiced with a team spirit and camaraderie to be admired.

We had forgotten the spectre of Kingsmeadow and such harrowing scenes – they well may haunt Jackett for the remainder of his Pompey lifetime.