Portsmouth 2 Wycombe 0: Neil Allen's verdict - Blues poised to enter new year as genuine automatic promotion candidates

Pompey’s promotion campaign has stirred, suddenly belief is in abundance at Fratton Park.

Friday, 27th December 2019, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 27th December 2019, 8:17 am

Successive home victories over sides positioned second and first in League One have rightly transformed opinion of this Kenny Jackett side.

A 2-0 triumph over Wycombe has lifted the Blues into eighth spot, their loftiest position this season.

Had it not been for Wes Burns’ last-gasp winner for Fleetwood at Rochdale, and Michael Smith’s stoppage-time goal for Rotherham, today Pompey would be residing in the top six.

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Still, they are poised to enter 2020 re-established as genuine automatic promotion candidates, a regard few would have shared until recently.

Progress has not been sudden, one defeat in their last 13 in all competitions has brought them to this juncture.

Crucially, however, the last four Fratton Park league fixtures have come against sides occupying League One’s top six at that time.

The outcome has been 10 points reaped from a possible 12 for Jackett’s ever-improving side.

Ronan Curtis celebrates scoring against Wycombe with Ben Close. Picture: Graham Hunt

Among that tally are the scalps of Rotherham, Ipswich and now Wycombe, with a draw to Peterborough also included.

The last time the Blues encountered the Chairboys was mid-September, when a 1-0 loss rendered them 20th in the league and prompted some supporters to chant for Jackett’s head.

On Boxing Day, second-half goals from man-of-the-match Ben Close and Ronan Curtis concluded a potentially pivotal victory in the pouring rain.

The hosts had to remain patient, as ever frustrated by Wycombe’s customary delaying tactics, particularly during a first half which saw six minutes of time added on.

The Fratton faithful kept the faith, after all they are used to this Gareth Ainsworth Wycombe team and their foibles.

And they were rewarded with a 2-0 triumph, leaving them one point off the play-offs and three points adrift of second-placed Ipswich to stoke up new-found belief among many.

Jackett had made one change to the side which defeated Ipswich last weekend.

James Bolton was restored to Pompey’s team in place of Ross McCrorie, who collected a hamstring injury during that 1-0 win over the Tractor Boys.

Bolton’s promotion into the starting XI allowed Oli Hawkins to return to the 18-man squad, with the striker-cum-defender selected among the substitutes.

Meanwhile, Andy Cannon was handed a second-successive league appearance, having been overlooked for three months before his Ipswich comeback.

Pompey faced a Wycombe side without the talismanic Adebayo Akinfenwa, serving a one-match ban following his dismissal against Oxford United the previous game.

Former Blues loanee David Wheeler was among the Chairboys’ substitutes, while Ryan Allsop, who infamously kept goal for Pompey as a loanee for the 2015-16 League Two play-off semi-final against Plymouth, lined-up for the visitors.

There was a five-minute power cut at Fratton Park before kick-off, not that it prevented the match kicking off on time, with power subsequently restored.

On five minutes, Cannon charged down Anthony Stewart’s attempted clearance and the Pompey raced down the left before flighting a cross towards Harrison.

The striker, who appeared to be tugged back, laid it into the path of Williams, whose right-footed half-volley flew wide from a decent position.

The Australian’s involvement ended moments later. Having previously received treatment, he once again went to ground and there was to be no continuation - replaced by Harness.

In the ninth minute, Ben Close exchanged passes with Cannon during a short corner, allowing the former to create space inside the box to curl a shot just past the far post.

At the other end, Joe Jacobson’s left-wing corner caused problems at Pompey’s near post, yet was blocked on the line and cleared.

Harrison earned the game’s first booking on 13 minutes, following a clumsy challenge on Jacobson in front of the South stand.

Wycombe’s familiar methods of slowing down proceedings began to once more emerge, with Curtis Thompson the latest to receive treatment before carrying on.

The encounter was beginning to drift, although good work from Anton Walkes culminated in a fierce angled shot from the left which Ryan Allsop had to gather at the second attempt.

Then Thompson had to be substituted on 27 minutes, although not before a flashpoint when Cannon attempted to pull him back to his feet after going down once more, an action not appreciated by Wycombe’s players or the referee.

On 36 minutes, Curtis was given a yellow card for simulation after tumbling under a challenge from Jacobson as he surged into the Wycombe half.

To reflect the frustrating flow of the match, the fourth official indicated six minutes of time added on at the end of the first half.

Cannon was in the thick of the action and squared to Harrison, whose left-foot shot was straight at the keeper, saving comfortably low down.

When the second half got underway, Bolton had a great chance to break the deadlock, heading Close’s right-wing corner over the bar from five yards out when he should have done better.

Then Harrison laid the ball into the path of Close, who fired a left-footed attempt just over the bar from outside the box.

The game was failing to spark, but on 62 minutes Alex Samuel drew a diving stop from Craig MacGillivray with an angled attempt from the right.

On 66 minutes, Curtis fizzed in a shot from the left, which Allsop pushed out, with Bolton’s follow up also blocked.

Then in the same period of play, the Blues made the breakthrough.

Harrison rolled the ball against the post, with the keeper beaten, but Close pounced, calmly dummying a shot before crashing home a finish from close range.

Jackett introduced Gareth Evans from the bench for Cannon on 72 minutes, with the former Rochdale man’s contribution recognised by the fans.

Pompey doubled their lead on 73 minutes as Curtis maintained his impressive scoring streak.

Harness fired in a low cross from the right and the Irishman connected with a first-time finish in front of the Fratton Park to make it 2-0.

It was enough to secure victory – and another notable scalp of a top-six side at Fratton Park.