Portsmouth 0 Accrington 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Season over. Now time to rip up this failing squad and to let Danny Cowley oversee it
The end of the play-offs, the end of some Pompey playing careers – but hopefully not the end of Danny Cowley.
We all harboured doubts about this erratic group of players heading into a pivotal final League One fixture.
And, once again, they let us down.
Kenny Jackett spent three-and-a-half years assembling a side supposedly capable of finally departing League One this term.
They didn’t even end up in the top six as a hapless display against Accrington brought the curtain down on the painful 2020-21 campaign.
Cowley’s men knew that victory at Fratton Park would see them claim the last play-off spot ahead of Oxford United and Charlton.
Subsequently, the outcome was a 1-0 defeat to Stanley as they choked in an empty stadium.
It remains to be seen whether we will ever see forthcoming free agents Craig MacGillivray, Jack Whatmough and Tom Naylor in a Pompey shirt again.
They certainly deserve to remain considering their consistent performances for this club over the years.
Yet they’ll be offers elsewhere, presumably from a higher level, most likely on improved wage terms.
Regardless, they’ll need to be an overhaul of a squad which has consistently failed to win promotion over a number of years.
It’s not just out-of-contract players under threat, some contracted culprits must also be shown the door.
Overseeing it needs to be Cowley, who has breathed fresh energy into a stale club, tapping into the supporters’ passion and drive.
There is little doubt he will remain and must be presented with a license – and realistic finances – to rip up the squad and rebuild.
The journey of many of those players on display against Accrington must now end. Thank you and goodbye – the club needs more.
Consistently underperforming for two or three seasons can be stomached no longer. The club needs winners, strong mindsets and characters.
Too many against Accrington produced the weak performances we have been forced to witness for too long.
For the August return of fans, it needs to be a new-look team – and Cowley leading them.
For the crucial occasion, Sean Raggett was dropped, representing the sole change to the side which beat AFC Wimbledon last weekend.
Raggett had started all 45 of the Blues’ League One fixtures before Accrington’s visit, yet found himself on the bench.
Cowley had made the big call in order to fit Jack Whatmough into the starting XI following his return from a four-match suspension.
He partnered Paul Downing, who kept his place having impressed during his return to the side at Plough Lane following 19 months away.
Curiously, Whatmough and Downing had never partnered each other before in Pompey’s first-team, reflecting the boldness of the selection decision.
There was also a boost for Cowley with the availability of Jordy Hiwula after 10 matches out with injury.
However, there was no room in the 18-man squad for James Bolton and Rasmus Nicolaisen.
Before the match, a minute’s silence was held in honour of Pompey great Alan McLoughlin, who tragically passed away at the age of 54 in the week.
When the match got underway, Tom Naylor won the ball to spark a Pompey attack, with the ball slipped down the left channel for Marquis.
However, his shot from the angle was blocked by keeper Toby Savin, which gave the hosts the first corner of the game.
That was delivered by Marcus Harness from the left, with Savin punching the ball clear, albeit rather unconvincingly.
Harness became the first player to be booked when he fouled Sean McConville on 17 minutes.
The deadlock was broken by Accrington on 23 minutes, through a stunning strike from Phillips.
From inside the box down the right, the loanee from Burnley took a touch with his left before rifling a fierce right-footed effort which screamed into the roof of the net.
It was Stanley’s first meaningful attempt on goal – and they possessed the lead.
Downing was the next to be booked after felling Dion Charles with an outstretched challenge following Ben Close’s loose pass.
From the resulting free-kick, MacGillivray hurled himself to his right to push Phillips’ stinging 30-yard shot around the post.
Accrington were in control and, on 32 minutes, Phillips’ free-kick from the right almost found its way to Michael Nottingham at the far post, only for Johnson to deflect it for a corner.
The visitors should have grabbed another when Harvey Rodgers was left with a free header six-yards out from McConville’s left-wing corner.
However, despite losing marker Johnson, he somehow diverted his attempt wide of the target, ricocheted off a player and bounced wide, much to the Blues’ relief.
During three minutes of time added on, Lee Brown won a corner down the left which was played short and whipped in superbly by Ronan Curtis, but Marquis couldn’t make contact.
Colby Bishop then powered home a header from McConville’s free-kick on the stroke of half time, but it was ruled out for off-side.
Curiously, there were no substitutions at the break for Pompey as they attempted to turn around a match they simply had to win.
Curtis then saw a right-footed shot from distance pushed around the post from 30-yards when perhaps he would have been more advised to pass.
There clearly was a greater urgency about the Blues since the interval and, when Harness’ attempt was blocked, Curtis followed it up to rifle a first-time shot high into the Fratton end.
Curtis was leading the charge and he broke down the left and threaded a pass through to Marquis, but his angled shot was smothered by the onrushing Savin.
Pompey made a triple substitution on 59 minutes, with Johnson, Close and Downing replaced by George Byers, Harvey White and Hiwula.
That prompted Naylor dropping into the back four to partner Jack Whatmough at centre-back.
Byers immediately produced a bit of magic on the edge of Accrington’s penalty area, creating room to fire off a right-footed shot which Savin saved low down.
The Pompey players were now beginning to niggle among themselves, the latest saw Williams say something to Curtis after the Irishman produced a wild shot from 30-yards.
Hiwula was doing his best, getting in behind the defence, and saw a shot deflected for a corner on 80 minutes.
Substitute Charlie Daniels found himself through down the right and his shot was saved by Savin amid appeals for a penalty after being taken out as he shot.
As four minutes of time added on ticked down, Daniels screwed a cross from the left behind the goal.
It was the last meaningful action of the season. Now for this squad to be ripped up.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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