Carlisle 0 Pompey 3: Jordan Cross’ match report

Amine Linganzi scores. Picture: Joe Pepler
Amine Linganzi scores. Picture: Joe Pepler
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It’s an accusation as familiar as a Barry Harris pump-fisted salute.

And it’s a label, at some time or another, which has befallen all of Paul Cook’s recent Pompey managerial predecessors.

Tactical naivety: The modern moniker for a maligned manager; the messageboard mantra when it gets murky.

And it’s been thrown in Cook’s direction of late along with a volume of dirty diatribes and any of the smelly stuff which sticks. Some criticism has been valid, plenty of it not and one or two pieces of aimless flak’s had nothing at all to do with football.

At 4.27pm on Saturday, the Blues boss gave his riposte in the shape of tactical switch which could prove to have a monumental impact on his team’s season.

When Jack Whatmough and Conor Chaplin were summoned from their limbering in the Brunton Park rain with 18 minutes of the game remaining, a seminal change was in the offing.

It was also the kind of gung-ho switch which had a couple of old adages leaping to mind.

Was Pompey switching to wing-backs and a two-man strikeforce at the home of a promotion rival looming large in their sights, going to be a case of acting in haste and repenting at leisure? Or was this an impeccably-timed heart-on-sleeve adjustment which would make good on that old fortune favouring the brave truism?

Within a minute or so of the move we had our answer. And along with it came another reply to the doubters.

Gary Roberts arrived in the summer of 2015 with star billing as a self-proclaimed main actor on the lower-league stage. As Cook himself admitted in the delirious afterglow of a defining victory, those abilities have only appeared as cameos in his time at Pompey.

To witness the sight of his impudent run and deftly-executed finish was to watch a man seeking redemption. And to see Roberts stood, arms outstretched, below 1,209 exultant travelling fans was to view Cook’s talisman exorcising his demons.

It felt like a moment which would be the pre-cursor to a nervous finale in the face of an onslaught from the home side. Instead, it laid the foundations for Pompey’s best passage of play this season.

In fact, Pompey’s manager went a lot further in the final analysis of a monumental success in the 2016-17 campaign’s narrative.

‘I think this could be the best feelgood factor this club’s had since we’ve come out of administration,’ Cook smiled, as the stubborn partying continued from the hardy stragglers in the East Stand. ‘It has to be because we’ve delivered on a big-game stage.’

That they certainly did, as Cook’s side soaked up the highfalutin build-up afforded the contest - and then embraced the hype with a powerful second-half showing.

That increasingly emerged out of first-half sparring which was high on endeavour but lacking in the quality work to make a decisive impact.

In fact, it was hard to find a Pompey effort of note across the first 37 minutes. The home side, though, had two vociferous penalty appeals refused by Northumberland official Richard Clark in the opening half.

Tom Miller’s 28th-minute drive brought claims which fell into the realms of optimistic as it cannoned into Roberts. The late shout as the ball spun up from the zippy Carlisle surface into the arm of Gareth Evans, after a long throw, appeared more legitimate.

Neither were given to the fury of the home crowd on the half-time whistle.

Seven minutes before that, Roberts had came within a whisker of opening the scoring with a trademark 20-yard free-kick. It beat the wall but also Mark Gillespie’s near post by a few inches.

Then came the last significant action of the half, which gave the impression to the assembled travelling faithful it would be a forlorn trip back down the M6.

Eoin Doyle’s two-yard miss as Evans’ cross pinged around the Carlisle box before falling to the striker in front of an open goal, was perplexing as it was astonishing. It wasn’t quite Liverpool’s Ronny Rosenthal against Aston Villa in 1992, but it wasn’t far behind.

Fortunately, the sitter can quickly be washed away by the footballing sands of the time and what developed after the break.

Pompey’s increased energy, driven play and belief to be able to stand toe-to-toe with a hard-hitting rival was key to three sweet points.

It was evident within two minutes of the restart as Cook’s side carved out a trio of chances in a wave of play which looked certain to reap the opener. First Enda Stevens’ cross was kept out by Gillespie via a deflection off Gary Liddle. Then Doyle’s bid for atonement was dashed by the offside flag, before the returning and hyped Carl Baker’s deflected 20 yarder was tipped over.

Jamie Proctor, who’d been linked with Pompey in January, had been busy all afternoon showing what had pricked Cook’s interest. But it was to be a 56th-minute missed header from Luke Joyce’s cross when front and centre which had him apologising to his team-mates after the game.

After seeing Carlisle’s first-choice central defenders leave the pitch in the opening 37 minutes, it was a break which fell Pompey’s way. There was nothing fortunate about the excellent David Forde getting down to his right to deny Reggie Lambe four minute’s later, though.

‘It was a match-winning save from the goalkeeper,’ opined Keith Curle, whose balanced assessments both before and after the game show a man moving away from the image created in his playing days.

Forde’s stop was also the pre-cursor for 17 magical minutes prompted from the away technical area. First Roberts with his majesty, then Amine Linganzi with his relief-inducing thump and, finally, Whatmough with a maiden strike to warm royal blue hearts.

The man who made the seismic switch managed to do self-deprecating as adrenalin and joy swirled beneath the surface during his post-match assessment.

‘I would like to say I’m a tactical genius, but I was dithering for ages!’ came the bouncing, grinning words through the Scouse gravel.

It was a move which awoke beautiful memories of Harry Redknapp Pompey champions two goals adrift and being pummelled at Crystal Palace in 2003.

A shift to 3-5-2 and three strikes in four second-half minutes proved a defining marker for a team who then swept aside all before them.

Like then, the impetus is palpable. Like then, the unity is sensed. Fourteen years on, this has to be the same game-changing moment.