Portsmouth 4 Reading 1: Neil Allen's verdict - The unmistakable sign of a good side as ruthless Blues power on

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Colby Bishop was burdened with a curiously large white box as he negotiated his way along the South Stand touchline.

He had been left empty-handed in terms of man-of-the-match accolades, with team-mate Callum Lang honoured as the sponsors' man-of-the-match and the inspirational Abu Kamara recognised by surely everyone else at Fratton Park.

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Nonetheless, the top-scorer's order for a personalised bottle of alcohol had been fulfilled and delivered to the club, requiring his collection.

Not champagne, you understand, such frivolity is far too presumptuous. Rather the contents contained finest Jameson Irish Whiskey.

Callum Lang celebrates netting Pompey's third goal in the 4-1 win over Reading. Picture: Jason Brown/ProSportsImagesCallum Lang celebrates netting Pompey's third goal in the 4-1 win over Reading. Picture: Jason Brown/ProSportsImages
Callum Lang celebrates netting Pompey's third goal in the 4-1 win over Reading. Picture: Jason Brown/ProSportsImages

In fairness, Bishop could be forgiven for raising a little toast on Saturday evening, basking in his 16th goal of the season and another crucial victory to edge the Blues closer to the Championship.

Yet this is no time for celebration, certainly with a sizeable 12 matches still remaining. Forget declaring points targets and unveiling predictions surrounding the number of wins required - never has the old adage of taking each game as it comes been so permissible.

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Indeed, there are those among the Fratton faithful who have just about conceded Pompey have now secured their first play-off campaign for four seasons. Probably. Maybe. We'll see.

In terms of recent times, we've been here before, of course. Blame Ben Thompson's exit, the Southend 3-3 draw, or that pass involving Viv Solomon-Otabor in 2019-20. Then, the following campaign, Covid curtailed a promising promotion charge.

Granted, it's far too simplistic to pinpoint such moments as season-defining. Regardless, the ongoing reticence among many Pompey fans to embrace this tantalising position is entirely understandable.

Nonetheless, there is growing evidence we are witnessing a truly special season. Admit it, or perhaps don't, whatever your disposition. However, the signs are irrefutable.

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Take Saturday's Reading encounter as a case in point. A prime example why John Mousinho's injury-ravaged squad remains firmly on track to reach the Championship.

Up until the 36th minute of Saturday's match, the Blues had been uncharacteristically dominated at home, surrendering the bulk of possession and unable to dictate with the ball.

During that uncomfortable period, an in-form Reading conjured up the best performance from a side visiting the south coast this season. Yes, even eclipsing Steve Evans' Stevenage boast, albeit laughably based on the testimony of a mythical local reporter.

And all in front of a Fratton Park crowd of 20,113, the ground's biggest since hosting Arsenal in the Premier League in December 2009. Talk about a big day ruined.

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Then it happened. Will Norris' diagonal kick found Abu Kamara on the right flank, he headed the ball inside to Callum Lang, who returned it back.

The right-winger then drove across the pitch before laying it into the path of Paddy Lane, who took a touch before firing in an angled left-footed shot which somehow beat David Button at his near post.

It was as straightforward as that and, within that moment, the match was transformed.

The Blues would have been delighted to flee into the interval clutching a goalless draw, allowing the opportunity to reorganise and recalibrate. Instead, they found themselves with a lead established entirely against the run of play. Remarkably, by the final whistle, Mousinho's men had triumphed 4-1.

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Traditionally such outcomes indicate the sign of a good side - and, in recent weeks, we're finally beginning to understand just how talented this team is.

Sure, Pompey have occupied the top of League One for all but one week since mid-September, yet, in truth, there has been little swagger about their play. Effective, unquestionably, but rarely with a flourish.

Suddenly, though, with 12 goals in their last four outings, with immaculate timing the resurgent Blues are upping their game considerably and looking deliciously resplendent as league leaders.

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Poor Reading, they didn't deserve this, particularly with their wretched off-field problems. However, a relentless Pompey ruthlessly turned the screw during a devastating second half.

On 48 minutes, Kamara's break down the right saw him play the ball back to Marlon Pack, who surged into the box, dipped his shoulder, and then crashed a right-footed finish into the far corner.

Just 10 minutes later, Kamara was again the creator, slipping the ball inside to Callum Lang, who drove in an angled right-footed shot into the far corner to make it 3-0.

Then, six minutes from time, Joe Rafferty's deep ball into the box was taken by Button, only to drop it as he fell on top of Conor Shaughnessy, with Colby Bishop striking a first-time right-footed shot into an unguarded net.

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Reading substitute Charlie Savage netted an 89th minute consolation after a left-wing corner, yet the points had long been decided.

A sixth win in seven leaves Pompey nine points clear in the two automatic promotion slots with 12 matches remaining. It's getting nearer.

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