Portsmouth 1 Ipswich 0: Neil Allen's verdict - A day of Pompey perfection as a city united in mourning celebrated
Applause preceded the game and also concluded it on a day of such Pompey perfection.
This was for John Jenkins, for Jim Smith, for Ron Saunders, men whose accomplishments will forever retain a place in hearts of the Fratton faithful.
A city had spent the past fortnight huddled in mourning, suffering heightening agony at being deprived of a succession of heroes woven within the rich tapestry of this wonderful football club.
The goal-scoring exploits of Saunders have been handed down generations through breathless brushstrokes from those privileged to have witnessed the powerful centre-forward.
Aston Villa may represent the pinnacle of his managerial career, yet Fratton Park staged the greatest playing days of the third-highest scorer in Blues history.
Smith narrated the Pompey childhood of many, the persuasive eloquence of his side’s captivating footballing approach engendered a life-time attachment among fledgling fans.
Upon his return as assistant manager to Harry Redknapp, a new breed would embrace the charismatic South Yorkshireman so integral to the beginnings of those Premier League heydays.
As for ex-boardroom steward Jenkins, during a minute’s applause pre-match the unmistakable rendition of ‘He’s one of our own’ drifted from the Fratton end, saluting the legacy of one of the city’s favourite sons.
The D-Day veteran born within a stone’s throw of the Kings Theatre was admired across the globe, yet, more importantly, cherished by his people, so proud of what he symbolised.
As ever with Pompey fans, there could be no agreement. On the issue of how best to honour such folklore figures, disputes rumbled on over whether a minute’s applause or silence offered a fitting farewell.
As ever with Pompey fans, eventually there was unity, standing side-by-side and linking arms in appreciation. On moments such as Saturday, Portsmouth Football Club truly excels.
The Shepherds Crook decorated banners across two of its windows, both dedicated in memory of Jenkins and Smith, while a bouquet of white flowers were positioned on Jenkins’ customary directors’ box seat.
It would, of course, be fitting for the football to gatecrash the occasion in Grinch-like fashion a few nights before Christmas to devastate proceedings.
As it was, Kenny Jackett’s side rose to this touching occasion with arguably their finest display in this wildly unpredictable season.
Not even the onset of torrential rain following kick off of Ipswich’s visit could dampen spirits inside Fratton Park on an impeccable afternoon.
Following the Accrington debacle which yielded the Blues’ heaviest league defeat for almost six years, what unfolded against Paul Lambert’s side was remarkable.
The 1-0 scoreline is misleading, Pompey were significantly unmatched in each department, dominating play during the fixture’s entirety.
Ipswich arrived to the south coast on Saturday residing in second place and possessing the best away form in League One.
They subsequently departed having mustered just two shots on target, fulfilling nothing more than a support-act role throughout, with Tom Naylor and Ben Close dictating the match’s progress and Ellis Harrison wrecking havoc.
As for the Tractor Boys’ bruising approach, there were the issue of six yellow cards, including assistant boss Stuart Taylor, while skipper Luke Chambers collected another two cautions, resulting in his dismissal three minutes from time.
Jackett’s men may have lacked final-third creativity their approach deserved, particularly in the first half, nonetheless it was a mightily impressive showing a week following that Crowd Ground humiliation.
For all the criticism they rightly received in that 4-1 hammering, for Saturday they warrant significant praise, particularly Pompey’s boss.
Now midway through his third campaign, this has proven Jackett’s toughest so far, in terms of consistent results and retaining the faith of a large amount of the club’s support.
Against Ipswich, he opted to surprisingly restore Andy Cannon to his starting line-up in the league for the first time in three months.
Not since the 1-0 defeat at Wycombe had he put such faith in the former Rochdale man, with a mere 22 minutes of League One football handed over in the subsequent period.
Yet there was Cannon, in place of John Marquis operating behind lone striker Ellis Harrison, a move designed to bolster his midfield rather than effectively employ four forwards.
How it worked as the player Blues followers have long championed for a first-team return supplied the energy and mobility to strengthen the middle of the park rather than focus on the attacking third.
Marquis had been entrusted with the role in the previous five league and FA Cup outings, albeit armed with a more attacking remit, although has struggled with effective distribution. At present, the fit is not quite right.
As a midfielder, Cannon’s natural attributes provided more assistance for Naylor and Close, establishing a foothold in the match.
That was one of three changes, with Christian Burgess returning from a one-match ban and Ryan Williams preferred to Marcus Harness on the right wing.
Harness, James Bolton and Marquis dropped to the bench while, in the ensuing reshuffle, Naylor stepped back into midfield, with Ross McCrorie going to right-back.
Meanwhile, Oli Hawkins, back following the birth of his son, couldn’t re-enter the squad, with Paul Downing and Bolton preferred as the defensive options on the bench.
The decisive goal arrived on 50 minutes, after Close has spread the ball to Curtis on the left while positioned in his own half.
The Irishman surged forward, cutting infield before rifling a fierce 20-yard right-footed effort which keeper Will Norris couldn’t not keep out, Curtis responding with a knee slide celebration in front of the North stand.
That’s seven goals in 10 matches for Curtis, who is unrecognisable from the player so out of touch earlier in season, once cheered when substituted against Bolton at the end of September.
There was still time for one more classy move from Pompey, however, with the crowning of Jenkins as the sponsors’ man of the match at the culmination of the 1-0 victory.
A wonderful gesture towards a remarkable man who, even at the age of 100, would joke of his disappointment at not being included in the Blues’ line-up for a match.
Farewell to three Fratton Park greats – your magnificent contributions will be applauded for eternity.