Wycombe 2 Portsmouth 3 – Neil Allen’s verdict: Conquering of Adams Park reflects rocketing promotion conviction

At last Richie Barker has been eclipsed, an improbable scenario admittedly.

Sunday, 7th April 2019, 11:40 pm
Updated Monday, 8th April 2019, 1:40 pm
Jamal Lowe crashes home Pompey's 18th-minute opener in Saturday's 3-2 success at Wycombe. Picture: Joe Pepler

Yet he previously stood proud as the only Pompey manager to triumph at Adams Park, albeit that January 2014 outcome representing a sole away victory in charge.

Paul Cook never managed it, rather left fearing for his job following a loss during his second Fratton Park season.

How perceptive he was. During the aftermath, some within the boardroom privately confided doubts over his suitability for securing passage out of League Two.

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Barely three months later, Cook had captured the title – before dashing off to Wigan with breakneck haste.

Back to the present, before Saturday none of League One’s top eight had departed the home of the Chairboys clutching a win, among them Luton, Barnsley and Sunderland.

It renders Kenny Jackett’s subsequent 3-2 success and the manner in which achieved that much more impressive.

Granted, recent form for Gareth Ainsworth’s side has been wretched, a dire period spitting out 10 matches without triumph and one point from the last 24 available.

Amid such circumstances, Blues victory was essential at a venue yielding so little joy in four previous encounters.

Mission accomplished as it turned out and, with six matches remaining, they are now positioned two points adrift of second-placed Barnsley with a game in hand.

Sunderland, of course, continue to lurk, lagging behind the Tykes on mere goal difference, while have two matches on them.

Still, Pompey’s second Adams Park win in club history was carved out by Brett Pitman’s finishing class and Craig MacGillivray’s goalkeeping brilliance.

It’s a contradiction within itself that both vied for man-of-the-match acclaim, nonetheless reflective of a curious match which saw the comfortable visitors ultimately clinging on for three points.

Certainly Wycombe did not represent a team residing one point and two places above the relegation zone, burdened by the aforementioned relegation form.

And it was Pompey grateful for the final whistle rather than Ainsworth’s men, who staged a heartening late rally following Scot Kashket’s lifeline goal eight minutes from time.

Even before that point, MacGillivray had pulled off at least four superb stops to keep the hosts at bay, with Paris Cowan-Hall, in particular, outwardly incredulous following one second-half save.

Similarly, Pitman was just as pivotal at the other end of the pitch as his talismanic presence continues to invoke belief in achieving what would be a remarkable promotion accomplishment.

The Blues have won all five matches since the once-exiled striker returned to the starting XI armed with renewed resolution and handed a different remit in positional terms.

He inflicted two wonderful, contrasting finishes upon the Chairboys during a 14-minute second-half spell which would prove decisive in the context of the match.

Pitman’s display fractionally shaded MacGillivray’s, yet both were the stand-out performers in a cruise towards victory which would descend into a gutsy grind as the finishing line neared.

With six minutes of time added on, it was unbearably tense for the 1,810 Blues followers in attendance as the hosts bombarded the penalty area.

Such challenges to negotiate was undoubtedly reminiscent of Pompey in their prime during the opening half of the campaign, when they ruled supreme at League One’s summit for three-and-a-half months.

They can no longer claim that mantle, Luton have ensured that, yet remain in the hunt for the second automatic promotion spot following this current rejuvenation.

After defeat at Charlton, Jackett declared a target of up to nine wins out of the remaining 10 fixtures to secure a return to the Championship without the necessity of the play-offs.

Presently they have claimed four of those – with another six matches remaining. Conviction is enhanced by the week as the positive results continue to arrive.

The fact they have also succeeded where so many rivals have failed in terms of triumphing at Adams Park should bolster belief, irrespective of how the match panned out towards such a conclusion.

From powerfully effective to uncomfortably unconvincing, their display swayed to extremes, yet produced the perfect outcome for the Fratton faithful.

No Wembley hangover, no complacency, Jackett's men reassuringly returned from Checkatrade Trophy duty with focus intact and another win recorded.

For that, the Blues deserve immense credit. Greater prizes are on offer, after all.

Jackett, though, did opt for a reshuffle from that Wembley final side, rewarding Gareth Evans and Oli Hawkins with starts against Wycombe.

Appearing as substitutes against Sunderland, Evans contributed a man-of-the-match performance, while Hawkins netted a penalty which has entered Fratton folklore.

As a consequence, Ronan Curtis and Omar Bogle made way at the Chairboys, dropping to a bench which also contained fit-again Bryn Morris.

Subsequently, Evans would be directly involved in both Pitman’s goals, although Hawkins endured a frustrating afternoon marshalled closely by Adam El-Abd and deprived of sympathy from the referee.

Pompey took the lead on 18 minutes when Evans’ free-kick from the right flicked off the head of a Wycombe defender and looped up to Matt Clarke, who controlled and lofted the ball back into the danger area.

Anthony Stewart’s header fell to Jamal Lowe, who then volleyed a right-footed shot through the crowded box and into the net for his 15th of the season.

Their advantage was extended just 27 seconds into the second half, emanating from Hawkins diverting a header to Evans.

The midfielder’s first-time pass set Pitman on Stewart, the Blues’ skipper nicking Evans’ ball past his opponent before calmly finishing right-footed beyond Ryan Allsop.

Wycombe pulled one back on 54 minutes when Allsop’s free-kick from his own half sparked a scramble inside Pompey’s penalty area.

Nick Freeman touched the ball through for ex-Blues loanee Marcus Bean to bundle past MacGillivray from close range, with the visitors legitimately appealing for offside.

Following a pause, the linesman agreed, only for referee John Busby to controversially overrule him after a conversation. Hawkins later claimed the Oxfordshire official believed it was an own goal.

Still, five minutes later the Blues restored their two-goal advantage after Evans was felled narrowly outside the box.

Pitman seized control of the situation, brilliantly curling a right-footed free-kick into the far corner for his second of the game.

Then, on 84 minutes, substitute Kashket latched onto Christian Burgess’ clearing header, controlling it on his chest before crashing a wonderful left-footed shot into the top corner.

A stunning strike which rendered a needlessly nervy finish for the visitors, yet they stood firm.

And Jackett has added Adams Park to a victory list encouraging stacking up during this timely late-season surge.