Portsmouth 2 Sunderland 0 - Neil Allen's verdict - King Kenny can suddenly do no wrong for classy Blues

The Fratton end chanted about ‘King Kenny’, while Pompey’s boss was later the recipient of man-of-the-match honours.

Sunday, 2nd February 2020, 9:00 am
Updated Sunday, 2nd February 2020, 6:51 pm

These are curious times during a fickle season currently tilting towards an automatic promotion claim.

Kenny Jackett was fighting for his job in October, at least in the eyes of a burgeoning band of Blues followers demanding dismissal.

Certainly club hierarchy did not share such views, chairman Michael Eisner delivering his backing through the medium of a video, broadcast at the Pompey Supporters’ Trust AGM.

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Christian Burgess, marking his 200th Pompey game, puts the Blues on their way to a 2-0 success over Sunderland on Saturday. Picture: Barry Zee

Saturday marked a magnificent run of two defeats in 23 matches in all competitions, while the club record of eight successive victories has been equalled.

The ever-dispersing group of Jackett detractors will no doubt point out flattering fixtures against Harrogate Town, Altrincham, Northampton and Walsall during this remarkable period.

Yet there have also been triumphs over Rotherham, Ipswich, Wycombe and now Sunderland, incidentally all occupying the top six at the time of their toppling.

This is a Blues side transformed – and similarly so is supporters’ regard for a manager once under excruciating pressure.

‘Up the Football League we go’ came the Fratton end cry following the second goal against the Black Cats, netted by James Bolton. It finished with the poignant line of ‘Kenny is our king’.

Meanwhile, match sponsor Hearn and Sons elected to name Jackett as their man of the match, somewhat puzzling considering the raft of outstanding player performers that afternoon.

The motives behind such an unusual decision are not entirely clear, for rarely does preference stray from those on pitch, unless a deserved occasion such as a tribute to John Jenkins.

Nonetheless, it signifies a momentous return to favour for a boss who a few months ago would have scarcely found a friend on social media.

Granted, critics remain, those unswayed by positive results and galloping up the League One table. That is their prerogative.

Still, it would be tough to resent the recent performance of a Pompey boss whose side stand one match from Wembley, have ventured into the FA Cup’s fifth round for the first time in a decade and are presently three points off second spot.

These are unmistakably heartening times at Fratton Park with the season now into February.

Similarly, in the past week, Jackett’s troops have demonstrated that touch of swagger which accompanies promotion sides – and an air of infallibility.

The FA Cup elimination of Barnsley was the finest display of the campaign, followed by victory at Lincoln, a venue so often the graveyard of high-flying sides this season.

Indeed, once Ronan Curtis’ free-kick disrupted the mundane Sincil Bank affair on the stroke of half-time, the visitors strode through the second half with confidence and an air of invincibility.

Then there was Sunderland.

During an uncertain beginning, the hosts were indebted to Alex Bass’ right-hand post and some gutsy defending to fend off a Black Cats side without defeat in nine matches.

It was undeniably a stirring start from Phil Parkinson’s men, who hadn’t even conceded a goal in their previous five fixtures.

Then Christian Burgess stepped forward with the 25th-minute opener, a fitting feat on the occasion of his 200th appearance for Pompey.

It represented a third consecutive Saturday in which the popular central defender had scored – and signified the commencement of Blues dominance which would remain in place for the match's entirety.

Had it not been for a magnificent goalkeeping display by Jon McLaughlin, the scoreline would have reflected a significant hammering which wouldn’t have flattered the hosts.

Indeed, during an embarrassingly one-sided second half against supposed fellow candidates for the Championship, the Blues oozed class to delight the Fratton following.

The Black Cats barely entered their final third, with all substitutes employed after 69 minutes, yet still unable to stem the relentless tide of attacks.

Alas there was terrible misfortune when Joel Lynch was stretchered off with concussion following a sickening collusion with keeper McLaughlin, reducing them to 10 men for the final 10 minutes plus stoppage time.

Yet the game had long ceased to be a realistic contest and cannot be tabled as the reason behind what became a shambling 2-0 demise.

Jackett’s men were simply brilliant, delivering another persuasive display to convince those gathered that this team possesses the capability to clinch automatic promotion.

The establishing of a dead-ball threat since the turn of the year has been a crucial addition to their play, with Curtis this time supplying the set-pieces for both goals rather than the ever-impressive Steve Seddon.

While the manager’s tactical decision to bring off John Marquis at the interval in place of Ellis Harrison was instrumental in that commanding second-half performance.

With six goals in his previous seven matches for the ex-Doncaster man, it was a bold call from Jackett, nonetheless the correct one and also warranting credit on a day he could do no wrong.

Pompey’s boss had even elected to change a winning team, with Ben Close replaced by Cameron McGeehan for the only alteration to the sides which beat Barnsley and Lincoln.

The Blues had a crucial let off on 19 minutes, however, when Luke O’Nien’s swerving left-footed shot from the right smacked against the far post and bounced clear.

Within six minutes, Burgess had headed home Curtis’ left-wing free-kick for his third goal of 2020.

McLaughlin then brilliantly saved from team-mate Bailey Wright to prevent an own goal after the defender had connected with Andy Cannon’s dangerous left-wing cross.

Pompey doubled their advantage on 52 minutes when Curtis’ left-wing corner was steered home by James Bolton from inside the six-yard box.

Further goals should have arrived, with Harrison’s header saved from point-blank range by McLaughlin, while Sean Raggett prodded Cannon’s cross wide from a few yards out.

The busy keeper also diverted a Harrison effort from outside the box which had caught him by surprise, as the hosts sought to add to their tally.

How the Black Cats must have longed for that final whistle to spare them more suffering, particularly during nine minutes of time added on following Lynch’s injury.

Still, on Saturday the name of Kenny Jackett was the toast of Fratton Park as he oversees this continued resurgence which dares to suggest a Championship return.