Portsmouth 3 Gillingham 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Uncertain futures but Blues pair achieve landmarks to prove life left in underwhelming season

Sean Raggett departed Fratton Park on foot for his Southsea home, tracksuit hood pulled over his head while carrying a 44-year-old trophy.

Sunday, 24th April 2022, 9:00 am
Updated Sunday, 24th April 2022, 2:16 pm

It seems even a dead rubber fixture in a season deprived of a play-off challenge can still possess a semblance of significance to the players.

Certainly Ronan Curtis will also forever cherish the day Gillingham arrived to Fratton Park, having plundered his 50th Pompey goal under the south-coast sunshine.

While some of the playing staff limp towards the season’s end, with Tyler Walker having packed his suitcase since his Cheltenham surrender, there remain landmarks and moments to treasure for a squad which once again will be ripped up this summer.

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The campaign is effectively over, it has been for a long time, yet there exists sufficient drive within Danny Cowley’s men to ensure they are not entirely going through the motions.

For that they deserve credit, likewise a third win in four matches, all arriving at Fratton Park, as they enter the final week of a season which threatened a play-off charge but never quite materialised.

Indeed, it represents a first genuine mid-table campaign since under Andy Awford in 2014-15 when Craig Westcarr, Joe Devera, Ryan Taylor and Ben Chorley occupied the first-team.

No disrespect to Devera or Taylor mind, yet they were of a time in Pompey history.

Clark Robertson heads home Michael Jacobs' second-half corner in Saturday's 3-1 success over Gillingham. Picture: Barry Zee

Saturday yielded a 3-1 triumph over a desperately poor Gillingham side backed by a healthy away following of 1,192 which chanted with hearty presumption ‘We are staying up’, following Ryan Jackson’s 30th-minute leveller.

As it was, the Blues possessed enough interest to still muster a win in their penultimate home game of the season.

Cowley’s maiden full campaign at the Pompey helm is largely forgettable, dominated by endless debating of playing budgets, the bemoaning of injuries and squad sizes, and the curious Roberto Gagliardi.

However, for the likes of Raggett – and Curtis – it has still created highs which may yet hasten their Fratton Park exits.

Raggett has been immense, enjoying his finest Blues campaign since arriving in June 2019, and thoroughly deserving the The News/Sports Mail's Player of the Season accolade.

While fellow arrivals that same summer under Kenny Jackett – Paul Downing, John Marquis and Ellis Harrison – proved desperately disappointing and a financial drain, the centre-half has been an astute capture.

Granted, it took time, namely a difficult opening season off the back of long-term injury issues before his Fratton Park arrival, thereby negating his performance levels in 2019-20.

Unquestionably, Raggett was once a figure of ridicule. Derided, mocked and the subject of much social media abuse, even directly, he subsequently established himself as an automatic choice.

Twitter was convinced Gavin Bazunu would be handed the Player of the Season accolade – in truth, Raggett secured not far off double the keeper’s vote. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Bazunu provided a strong challenge, though, with the pair totalling 92.5 per cent in a two-horse race not witnessed for many a year in the annual supporter-led award.

Yet it was Raggett, the player out of contract at the season’s end, who emphatically claimed the honours. Whether he is still around to defend it is not clear, we all have our doubts.

We are told the 28-year-old wants to stay, we are assured Cowley is desperate for him to remain, yet Pompey have a recent worrying penchant for losing highly-regarded players over financial terms.

And, in particular, winners of The News/Sports Mail’s Player of the Season with its now widely recognised curse.

Perhaps fittingly, Raggett would mark his coronation by weighing in with an assist against Gillingham, with his deep cross from the right finished with admirable composure in first-half stoppage time by Ronan Curtis.

It restored the Blues’ lead, dictating they headed in at the break 2-1 up, while also announced the Irishman’s 50th goal for the club.

Curtis has long divided opinion, particularly in a season which represents his most disappointing yet in a Pompey shirt, with performances plummeting as a consequence of frequent positional changes.

It has never been about lack of effort or desire with Curtis, it’s just that his most-effective role is on the left wing, with the ability to cut in on his favoured right foot.

On Saturday, he was restored to his preferred position, with Cowley employing a 4-2-3-1, and it yielded a double from the Republic of Ireland international. Surely no coincidence.

The first arrived on four minutes when Marcus Harness galloped down the right and put the ball across goal, where it was met right-footed by Curtis, whose movement had generated the space to apply a first-time finish.

The second was ably assisted by Gills scorer Jackson, who helpfully missed Raggett’s cross to allow the unmarked Irishman the opportunity to collect the ball before calmly finishing right-footed into the far bottom corner of the net.

The 3-1 scoreline was completed in the 54th minute, when skipper Clark Robertson headed home Michael Jacobs’ right-wing corner for his second in four matches.

To put Curtis’ latest landmark into context, not since the late, great Alan McLoughlin has a Pompey player broken the 50-goal barrier, with the Hall of Famer totalling 68 from 361 appearances.

The ex-Derry man has 50 from 188 outings since his arrival in the summer of 2018 – and there are strong arguments for him to seek fresh pastures in the summer to kick-start a career which has not progressed for two seasons now.

If that purported Championship interest still remains, a strong end to the season could be crucial in catching the eye of admirers. Perhaps a change is needed for both parties.

Still, there are two matches left in this self-styled transitional period ahead of what must be a promotion challenge under Cowley next term. He requires a strong third transfer window to build on decent foundations.

Since the January transfer window closed, the Blues have taken 32 points from 17 matches, just shy of the average of two points per match so often pinpointed as a requirement for automatic promotion.

It’s a period of nine wins, five draws and three defeats, while Cowley’s men are presently two points short of matching last term’s haul which earned them eighth spot.

Make no mistake, plenty still to play for, particularly those who definitely will be here – Danny Cowley and brother Nicky.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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