Ipswich 0 Portsmouth 2: Neil Allen's verdict - Paul McCartney and boos, but stylish Blues' promotion credentials strengthen
Paul McCartney’s festive reminder was drowned by a crescendo of boos.
Portman Road was not in the best of moods to receive a rendition of ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ over the PA system shortly after the final whistle.
Certainly there was little good cheer among the 2,000 supporters marking their return to football following an absence of nine months.
Those Ipswich followers present were initially in fine spirits and decent voice, also generously applauding the sight of both sets of players taking the knee before kick-off.
However, at half-time they booed. At full-time they booed. Although manager Paul Lambert was the object of their ire rather than those players who had incurred a 2-0 defeat.
For all the hosts’ shortcomings – and there were plenty – the post-match pantomime should not be allowed to cheapen the value of an excellent Pompey performance.
The margin of victory of Kenny Jackett’s men should have been considerably more emphatic, such was the quality of display against a side positioned third before the match.
Lambert must have been delighted for small mercies. Had John Marquis and Ronan Curtis both not been denied by the bar, the restless natives would have witnessed a thumping.
In truth, the Tractor Boys got off lightly, even if their manager didn’t. The reception unleashed at the game’s end does not auger well for his ongoing employment.
A Tannoy announcement had instructed supporters to remain in their seats following the fixture’s conclusion – and how noisily they filled their time during the impatient wait to be permitted an exit.
Pompey were simply a class above Ipswich. Forget about promotion rivals, Saturday was a hopeless mismatch.
How the Fratton faithful surveying the carnage from their lounges must have revelled. Not merely in a comfortable triumph but also another sizeable hint that perhaps, just perhaps, this may not be another play-off campaign.
Such optimism was unheard of before the last two League One fixtures, yet suddenly, in the space of eight days, this Blues side have elevated themselves into a loftier banding.
Pompey have always been a sure thing for play-off qualification, considering their squad’s talents and an experienced manager’s expertise. Indeed, failure would cost Jackett his job, with his contract not renewed.
However, successive victories over perceived promotion rivals Peterborough and Ipswich – and the stylish manner in which they have been achieved – have revealed a different side.
Gone is Pompey’s cautious, functional approach designed for safety first and to grind out wins by the narrowest of goal margins, largely characterising Jackett’s reign.
Instead we are witnessing a free-scoring team who have netted 29 times in their last 14 League One fixtures – averaging more than two goals a game.
Of those fixtures, the Blues have registered twice or more in 10 of them, including rattling up three four-goal scorelines.
They headed to Burton at the start of October languishing in 21st spot and the majority of those supporters on a enforced Fratton Park sabbatical clamouring for the manager’s dismissal.
Since that moment it has been nine wins in 14 league games. Today Pompey are third – three points off League One’s summit.
Jackett’s front four of John Marquis, Marcus Harness, Ronan Curtis and Ryan Williams are dripping with attacking intent, endeavour, skill, creativity, and, at present, goals.
On Saturday, Williams appeared on the scoresheet for the first time this season, with both his first-half strikes team efforts indicative of the players’ understanding.
The likable Australian is an underrated presence. His energy levels, work-rate and selflessness are admired by his manager and team-mates, certainly not underestimated.
Yet he lacks the goal-scoring record to truly stand out, the glory moments football fans latch onto when surmising the effectiveness of attacking players.
Not that Williams craves such showmanship, those who scratch beneath the surface are fully aware of his essential role in the Blues’ ongoing resurgence.
However, Portman Road was his turn in the limelight – and fully deserved.
The 27-year-old’s last goal was in February during a 3-0 success over Rochdale. He arrived at Ipswich on Saturday having gone 25 appearances without registering.
For good measure, Williams would net twice, both the outcome of fine team goals, to accompany his trademark energy and exuberance.
It’s not often Marquis, Curtis, Harness and even Tom Naylor have been upstaged this season, but the former Rotherham man was granted his glorious moment.
Jackett had named an unchanged side for a third straight match, unsurprising considering the calibre of performance against Peterborough the previous weekend.
The only alteration was Michael Jacobs replacing Bryn Morris on the bench, marking the winger’s first squad involvement since withdrawn at Sunderland with a knee injury in October.
His new-found availability is unquestionably a boost, although Jacobs’ four-minute cameo in place of Curtis was to chiefly to prevent the Irishman receiving a second yellow card, having lost his head a little.
Yet the three-time League One promotion winner will find it difficult to reclaim his first-team spot, with Ipswich another case in point.
Whether Williams or Harness operates alongside Marquis or behind him is fluent, it alters by the match, even during the fixture, and once again on Saturday the Blues oozed attacking menace.
Operating on the break particularly suits their pace and movement, although both goals were fine examples of team moves – and finished off by Williams.
On 29 minutes, Harness’ low cross from the right was intelligently laid off by Marquis and Williams rammed a left-footed finish high into the roof of Ipswich’s net.
Then, one minute before half-time, Naylor’s diagonal ball into the box was headed back by Curtis and there was the Australian once more, with a left-footed first-time shot past David Cornell.
For the first time in his career, Williams was on a hat-trick and although other opportunities to add to the scoreline fell to team-mates, unfortunately no others came his way.
Marquis headed Cam Pring’s free-kick from the left against the crossbar, a brave attempt earning him a clattering from Cornell has he did so, while Curtis’ magnificent shot from outside the box also hit the bar.
At the other end, superbly marshalled by Jack Whatmough and Sean Raggett, the defence stood firm, never suggesting they would be prevented from registering consecutive league clean sheets.
Cue the post-match introduction of Paul McCartney: ‘The party's on, the feeling's here, that only comes, this time of year.’
Judging from the adverse reaction to Pompey’s victory, Ipswich’s Lambert may well struggle to see out 2020.
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