Bristol Rovers 0 Portsmouth 2: Beware false prophets of 4-4-2 as Blues see light in crystal balls - Jordan Cross’ verdict

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Maybe in his eyes, he was Nostradamus.

But, in the end, he’s found himself somewhere between David Icke and Russell Grant on the slippery sliding scale of shaky oracles.

‘Trust me, in a short space of time, we'll be ahead of Portsmouth,’ said Joey Barton last August, channeling his inner Zoltar with all the trademark aggression which has long since been his calling card. ‘They're playing 4-4-2, the Cowleys, sound. It doesn't take you to where you need to get to in my opinion. They beat us fair and square today - and we'll see them down the track.’

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The Bristol Rovers boss was, of course, speaking in the wake of Pompey’s 3-1 win at Fratton Park, which saw them clock up 23 shots, a season’s high expected goals and one of their most dominant displays of the campaign.

Bristol Rovers boss Joey Barton.Bristol Rovers boss Joey Barton.
Bristol Rovers boss Joey Barton.

The long and winding road since that summer afternoon terminated at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday 210 days on, with it time for justice to be administered Barton style.

It ended with 12 points between the two sides and Pompey fans starting to wonder ‘what if?’ just a little, as the distance to the play-off promised land was cut to seven points with a game in hand on sixth-placed Bolton.

In between, Barton’s forward-thinking tactical masterplan which foundered at Fratton Park had been tinkered, tweaked and updated to bring down John Mousinho’s fast-accelerating side on the foundations of, ahem, a 4-4-2 formation…

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The comical irony of such an approach stalling had not been lost on the 1,275 travelling fans in a heady mix of Barton baiting, Marquis mauling and sensing the spring shoots of recovery sprouting from their side’s season.

Pompey celebrate their Bristol Rovers success.Pompey celebrate their Bristol Rovers success.
Pompey celebrate their Bristol Rovers success.

And when their talisman’s clinically dispatched 21st goal of the season was proven to be offside, the rage from the home technical area was only soaked up more gleefully.

Colby Bishop’s deadeye dispatch had indeed come with the benefit of a two-yard headstart, as the vision of Ryan Tunnicliffe had teased open the home defence in the 18th minute.

The Magic Man is in a vein of form where acute angles are no barrier to his rapier finishing. And so it proved, as he gleefully took advantage of the gift from the refereeing gods..

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The wheels were already in motion on a textbook away performance by then, which yielded a 26th point from a possible 42 that places Pompey towards the head of the League One form table with the division’s heaviest hitters.

At one end of the pitch, there is the line-leading nous and goalscoring prowess of Bishop to thank for that.

But this was a win crafted as much from the stoic resilience and sheer bloody mindedness of Mousinho’s men to protect a lead.

Then behind that, came the goalkeeping excellence of Matt Macey.

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The man, who is fast becoming a mandatory summer purchase, had twice come to his side’s rescue denying Lewis Gibson and Gas leading scorer Lewis Gibson before the breakthrough.

A flinging second-half effort to keep out Luca Hoole’s diving header, was the showpiece stop from a Macey highlights reel which totalled seven saves.

By that time Pompey’s advantage had been doubled, with Bishop’s unerring spot-kick dispatched and referee James Bell once more drawing Barton’s ire for the decision. This time the combustible Scouser’s protestations were on shakier ground, as Calum MacDonald tangled with Paddy Lane a couple of yards out with the goal gaping.

That, however, allowed the likes of the impressive Ryley Towler to enjoy the rest of an afternoon which had placed John Marquis firmly in his pocket, and seen the Bristol City arrival marry the silk and steel which have become his hallmarks.

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The Pompey faithful had espoused the belief they’d seen the man who’d cost their club £1m before, as he blazed over to jeers three minutes before the break. There was to be no Marquis riposte, as he was hooked at the interval and made a low-key exit after the game.

The game was in the palm of Pompey’s hand with the ole football being served up, by the time the home side’s frustrations over a stalled campaign boiled over in the game’s dying embers.

Jarrell Quansah recklessly left his imprint on Joe Morrell’s Achilles and then leaned a head in on the midfielder. It was the perfect metaphor for Bristol Rovers losing theirs, and there was only ever one outcome.

So a perfect week on the road for Pompey, one which keeps the season alive and has the Fratton faithful glancing towards top-six notions Mousinho is happy to entertain.

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The reality is the 9/1 odds of that being achieved are shortening, but reflect the chasm still to be bridged to extend the campaign beyond May 7.

Keeping the dream alive for as long as possible amid a run-in redolent of opportunity is now the challenge.

The latest step along that route was one witnessed by the club’s owners, as Eric Eisner and Andy Redman raced into the Memorial Stadium to watch events unfold amid a whistlestop visit.

The News were granted an audience with the directors before kick-off amid a frantic timetable, which afforded enough time to tackle a range of topics which will continue to be detailed over the coming days.

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And there was even time for Redman to offer a 2-0 score prediction which was later coyly echoed by Eisner, after dodging public prophecies on Radio Solent.

It seems when it comes to reading the runes, the Pompey owners make better soothsayers than most. In the words of false prophet Joey Barton, ‘sound’.

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