‘They weren’t peppering us. They’ve probably had four chances. Ultimately their attackers have produced the end product for them,’ uttered Gary McSheffrey in his post-match address to BBC Radio Sheffield.
Not that the ex-Coventry player was incorrect in his candid assessment following the Blues’ 4-0 success to plunge rock-bottom Rovers ever closer to League Two football next season.
Certainly McSheffrey’s appraisal wasn’t jaundiced by petty tribalism and dizzying PR spin spouted so dishonestly by some football managers. Rather this was refreshingly honest and wholly an excellent summary.
Nonetheless, talk of Pompey seizing goal-scoring opportunities so efficiently and possessing an end product is immensely difficult to comprehend.
If Saturday’s second half was out of character with the game, the manner in which it was achieved was completely out of character with this squad.
As the season has progressed, we’ve become numb, developing an almost shrug-of-the-shoulders acceptance that the Blues lack the creativity and verve to capitalise in the final third of the pitch.
Cut and paste woes of wretched final balls, dismal shooting, wing-backs unable to supply assists and wayward crossing, yet decent approach play and possession statistics. Same old, same old.
Yet, on Saturday, a clinical, ruthless streak suddenly existed within Pompey’s play. Well, for the second half anyway.
Not provided by Tyler Walker, mind, whose general anonymity and lack of involvement is becoming a little worrying, especially considering the financial package tabled to capture him on loan.
The Coventry man has a rich goalscoring pedigree also consisting of Championship football, yet five starts into his Fratton Park spell and performances remain deeply underwhelming.
Still, Walker aside, the Blues finally clicked as an attacking force during the final 45 minutes of the struggling Doncaster and the outcome was reassuringly comprehensive.
The wait has been an agonising one, but perhaps the long, dark tunnel is now in the rear-view mirror, with Pompey driving forwards, blinking as the team adjust to glorious sunshine.
Admitttedly – and crucially – the calibre of opposition are rooted to the foot of League One with 13 defeats in their last 16 matches in all competitions. The truth is, Rovers can be no accurate gauge of a opponent’s attacking quality.
The Blues can only defeat what’s in front of them, of course, yet it’s important wild celebrations are reined in a little bearing in mind the standard of visiting team on Saturday.
There will, inevitably, be the hysterical among the Fratton faithful screaming for the clueless Cowleys to be dismissed with the scoreline goalless at half-time – only to then declare Pompey as red-hot promotion candidates 45 minutes later.
A dose of sobriety is required, however. For all the undoubted quality demonstrated by Pompey to overhaul Doncaster, it was, after all, Doncaster. Written with the greatest of respect, you understand.
The Blues were meant to overcome McSheffrey’s side. This was no bonus victory against all expectations, albeit the breakthrough arriving on 56 minutes was undeniably a little late.
Yet, as Rovers’ own manager pinpointed, how Pompey dispatched them was ridiculously uncharacteristic of this mundane season.
Cowley clearly identified the weakness of the visitors, reflected by the attacking nature of the side he selected for the occasion, an approach recognised by all who studied the team sheet pre-match.
Despite a maiden League One win for almost two months on Tuesday night against Burton, he elected for three changes, of which none were influenced by injury or form.
Mahlon Romeo, Denver Hume and Connor Ogilvie all dropped to the bench, a rotational policy to avert overexertion among his meagre playing resources.
Instead Clark Robertson came in to skipper the side, partnering Hayden Carter and Sean Raggett in the centre of defence, while the wing-back roles were taken up by Marcus Harness and Reeco Hackett.
For leading scorer Harness, it represented reclaiming his starting spot after two matches among the substitutes, even if it was unfamiliar right wing-back duties.
Cowley described the ex-Burton man’s inclusion as an ‘extra attacker’ and, coupled with one holding midfielder, a two-pronged strikeforce, and Ronan Curtis and Michael Jacobs buzzing around them, it was a team brimming with front-foot intent.
Hardly reckless gung-ho, more controlled attacking aggression on home turf. Well, on paper anyway.
The opening 45 minutes were lacklustre, mind-numbing and devoid of enjoyment as Pompey limped to the interval with the scoreline goalless.
McSheffrey declared his men as the better team during the period – and he had a valid point. The fact Doncaster produced more goal attempts than Pompey, in terms of seven against five, backs up such opinion.
For all the pre-match excitement about seeing this new-look Pompey side in action, the team didn’t transfer it’s tantalising capabilities onto the pitch during that forgettable first half.
Indeed, it was largely the pattern until Hackett powerfully headed home Harness’ excellent cross from the right on 56 minutes to finally break the deadlock.
Then, seven minutes later, Ben Jackson misdirected a clearing header sideways, with George Hirst intercepting and galloping clear of the defence.
His touch inside the box was a little heavy, but the Leicester man still managed to squeeze a shot under the onrushing Doncaster goalkeeper to double Pompey’s lead and register his fifth of the campaign.
From that point there was no coming back for Rovers, with the Blues suggesting they had plenty more goals within them for this particular fixture.
Sure enough, Aiden O’Brien bundled home Curtis’ right-wing cross at the far post on 81 minutes, albeit in a tangle of limbs with Kyle Knoyle.
It represented the ex-Sunderland man’s first touch on his home debut for Pompey, having been introduced off the bench for Michael Jacobs a minute earlier.
The 4-0 scoreline was completed five minutes into time added on, when Hackett’s free-kick from the right was met with a thumping Raggett header for his second in successive matches.
It was devastating and cutthroat from the Blues, whose thirst for more goals against a wounded opponent as the second half progressed was impressive.
For a side so infuriatingly devoid of end product for so long, it was rather enjoyable – and a little far-fetched. Nonetheless, perhaps, just perhaps, a corner has been turned.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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