Portsmouth 4 Barnsley 2: Neil Allen's verdict - Exhilarating Blues produce season's finest to announce FA Cup progress

Conor Chaplin had the final say, with glaring inevitability.

Sunday, 26th January 2020, 9:00 am
Updated Sunday, 26th January 2020, 7:22 pm

Yet this isn’t his story, let’s not drag focus away from those who deservedly warrant applause. This was not his show.

Pompey were magnificent, conjuring up their brightest display in a season certainly not without victories, with 22 numbered in all competitions so far.

This was different, however, delivered with a swagger, deliciously free-flowing and a joy to watch for large periods. Not merely a win – it was a footballing triumph.

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John Marquis celebrates with Steve Seddon and Tom Naylor after scoring Pompey's second in their 4-2 success over Barnsley. Picture: Joe Pepler

Kenny Jackett’s men have ground out a fair few positive outcomes of late, particularly recent successes over Bolton and Scunthorpe so uncomfortable to witness.

They have become a model of efficiency since that wretched early-season form, not glorious during accomplishment, rather reassuringly effective.

A League One goal difference of plus eight perfectly reflects a promotion-hunting side competent in execution, lacking significant flamboyance.

On Saturday, however, they destroyed Barnsley 4-2 with a show-stopping flourish to surprise us all.

The Blues have lost twice in the last 21 fixtures, a remarkable haul which ensures their continued involvement in three competitions, including what will now be a fifth-round presence in the FA Cup.

Yet Jackett’s troops have rarely demonstrated the level of exhilarating performance as observed against the Tykes.

The scoreline flattered the Championship side, such was the gulf in quality and heart between the competitors, a chasm recognised by the Fratton faithful’s gloating of ‘We want five’ towards the fixture’s culmination.

In truth, the inspirational manner of the display was out of character, even if the winning outcome was distinctively familiar.

Perhaps a heartening indication of things to come from this Pompey side now oozing conviction in their promotion aspiration, backed up by the establishing of a number of key performers.

If only the Blues could replicate such a display in their League One programme, the very thought is tantalising.

Still, how Tornante representatives Andy Redman and Eric Eisner must have savoured their return to Fratton Park, with chairman Michael Eisner scheduled to join them this week.

Some supporters may have baulked at match-day tickets valued £24, yet those present were given their money’s worth through a stirring display from the hosts.

The driving force was Andy Cannon, recalled for only his third start in the last seven fixtures, his selection often appearing nothing more than a managerial whim considering the erratic nature.

There have been times when the former Rochdale man has been shackled to the bench, a baffling fate considering his eye-catching contributions during this breakthrough season.

Blessed with boundless energy and admirable work-rate, the fans have quickly taken to Cannon once his injury issues were banished. Now the vast majority would consider him an automatic selection.

At times on Saturday his passing was sloppy, while he has a tendency to fade during the second half of matches, the latter most likely connected to lack of match minutes through no fault of his own.

Nonetheless, he drags the Blues forward, pressing high and forcing teams deeper into their own half during retreat from his energetic onslaught.

Curiously, Christian Burgess was crowned the sponsors’ man of the match. There surely would have been few present nodding their heads in agreement upon the announcement.

Cannon was Pompey’s outstanding player by some distance, no mean feat considering the amount of impressive showings among his team-mates as Barnsley were dominated.

Had it not been for a wonder goal and a finish three minutes into stoppage time, the demolition act would have been even more emphatic, yet not let’s get greedy.

Saturday was as good as it been this season and, following the clinching of a Leasing.com Trophy semi-final spot in the week, the supporters are now chanting about Wembley and reminiscing with Sol Campbell songs.

In the meantime, the Blues are seven points adrift of League One leaders Ipswich with two games in hand, a Tuesday night trip to Lincoln next on the fixture list.

It is shaping up for a hell of a journey over the remaining three-and-a-bit months of this unpredictable campaign.

For Barnsley’s visit, Jackett made three changes to the team which won at rock-bottom Bolton so unconvincingly the previous weekend.

He elected to present Ryan Williams with a start of the right of the attacking three in place of Marcus Harness, as their self-contained battle continues.

Cannon was back in the number 10 role, allowing John Marquis to be pushed up into his favoured striking position, with Ellis Harrison making way.

Finally, with loanee Cameron McGeehan unable to line-up against his parent club, Ben Close was back in the team to partner Tom Naylor in the holding roles.

And it was to be the lad from Southsea who broke the deadlock on 37 minutes.

Cannon couldn’t engineer room for himself to shoot inside the box, so he elected to slide the ball across to Close, who took a touch before drilling a right-footed finish into the far bottom corner.

That advantage was doubled in first-half stoppage time, when Steve Seddon’s right-wing corner was met with a goal-bound Ronan Curtis header which Marquis touched over the line to make sure.

Barnsley grabbed themselves a lifeline out of nowhere on the hour mark through Cauley Woodrow’s stunning 35-yard right-footed strike, their first shot on target.

Moments later, Jacob Brown should have levelled when presented with a chance inside the box, only to place the ball wide.

From the resulting goal kick, Alex Bass’ booming delivery bounced through to Ronan Curtis, who held off a defender to nudge the ball pass keeper Brad Collins for his 12th of the campaign.

It was 4-1 on 76 minutes when another Seddon corner, this time in front of the Fratton end, was headed home by Burgess from four-yards out.

Then, deep into stoppage time, Brown’s header was saved by Bass at point-blank range, the ball bouncing out for Chaplin to steer home upon his Fratton Park reunion.

There was no celebration from the striker, merely retrieving the ball from the net to return it to the centre spot.

Yet this isn’t his story, let’s not drag focus away from those who deservedly warrant applause. This was not his show.

Pompey were simply magnificent.