Lincoln 0 Portsmouth 2: Neil Allen's verdict - Football is about tomorrow, but savour today. A special season

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With the encounter having entered its 102nd minute, many among Lincoln’s crowd felt compelled to stand up and applaud, creating a wonderfully poignant moment.

Pompey had just netted their second goal, Paddy Lane finishing after Abu Kamara’s shot had struck the post and fallen invitingly in his path.

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As the 1,095 travelling support rejoiced at the clinching of a 28th victory of a remarkable campaign, they were soon joined by the Imps faithful, albeit their spontaneous clapping focused solely towards consoling their demoralised team rather than any touching tribute to the League One champions.

In-form Lincoln boasted one defeat from their last 19 fixtures, setting the scene for a glorious finale in front of a capacity Sincil Bank crowd. Victory and a top-six finish would be assured.

The League One champions celebrate in front of the travelling Pompey fans after ending their season with a 2-0 victory at Lincoln. Picture: Jason Brown/ProSportsImagesThe League One champions celebrate in front of the travelling Pompey fans after ending their season with a 2-0 victory at Lincoln. Picture: Jason Brown/ProSportsImages
The League One champions celebrate in front of the travelling Pompey fans after ending their season with a 2-0 victory at Lincoln. Picture: Jason Brown/ProSportsImages

The sticking point was Pompey. Already crowned champions and with little else to play for, John Mousinho even helpfully made six changes for Saturday’s visit, including the squad omissions of Marlon Pack and Sean Raggett.

Typically, though, the Blues found a way to triumph, leaving it late once more to devastate Michael Skubala’s side in a heartbreaking last nine minutes plus lengthy stoppage time. If ever a performance encapsulated a season, this was it.

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With absolutely nothing riding on the occasion except ambition to hit 97 points, Pompey collected 10 bookings, irritated the home fans by wasting time during substitutions, and then stepped it up at the death to snatch victory.

And we thought they were winding the campaign down after that hungover display against Wigan. Job done, everyone’s on Southsea beach. Absolute nonsense.

Winners win. And what a team, what a squad. The talent, the desire, the professionalism. Worthy champions, worthy heroes, worthy of wearing that Pompey shirt.

Back in January, the doubts were creeping in, back-to-back defeats against Cheltenham and Leyton Orient over the customary grim post-Christmas period. Some on social media were calling for Mousinho’s head, this rookie manager and cheap option.

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The Blues responded with one defeat in their final 19 matches to claim the title by five points and finish 10 points clear in the automatic promotion spots. Truly a remarkable team.

The push has been relentless, refusing to be distracted by injuries continuing to pile up. Whatever challenge has been thrown up, they have readjusted, recalibrated and continued on their merry way with the minimum of fuss or sob story.

None of the top seven clubs beat Pompey this season, with only second-placed Derby escaping defeat. Mousinho’s men’s mentality for the big games is to be truly admired.

The statistics are mightily impressive. Five losses in a 46-game league season, 47 points away from home, 14 goals conceded on their travels, one defeat in three-and-a-half months, and, on Saturday, we saw 97 points reached.

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There are, of course, those that revel in misery, who crave to declare ‘I told you so’ as a justification for gloomy outlooks. If you cannot dredge up a modicum of joy from this season, football is no longer for you. Move along now.

This is special group of players you see, a footballing brethren who have etched themselves into Blues folklore. Down-to-earth, approachable, not a rampant ego among them and a genuine bond with each other and the city. Winning helps, of course, yet the magnificent 2008 FA Cup side never possess this attachment to the club they represent.

During the dark days in the lower divisions, the Fratton faithful have been reminded that players do care, they feel your pain, they share your highs, they relish playing for your wonderful football club.

Johnny Ertl, Ricardo Rocha, Conor Chaplin, Jed Wallace, Patrick Agyemang, Paul Robinson, Jamal Lowe, Christian Burgess, Michael Doyle, Gareth Evans, Kal Naismith, Kyle Bennett, Danny Rose, Brett Pitman, Matt Clarke, Gary Roberts, Craig MacGillivray, Ronan Curtis. The list goes on. They got it.

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Now the next generation of Pompey fans have new heroes and childhood memories to cherish. One day they will be recognising members of this squad’s induction into the Hall of Fame and vociferously greeting their entrance on the pitch at half-time for Former Players’ Day.

After this weekend, some of the 2023-24 champions will never play for the Blues again. There will be returns to loan clubs, while others inevitably face sad exits as a consequence of the retained list. Some farewells, no doubt, will break the hearts of supporters.

There is little time to pause, reflect and savour the moment in football. It’s all about tomorrow, the next signing, the next game, the next mountain out of a molehill, the next drama.

Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s rewarding to catch a breath and appreciate what you fortunate to be witnessing. For those attending today’s wet Southsea Common celebrations enjoy it - and applaud. Clap and clap and clap for these special players before this history-making group is broken up.

Tomorrow can wait. Enjoy today. What a season, Pompey.

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