Portsmouth have their backs to the wall – get set for the people to come out fighting

You’ll smell it in the Fratton air tomorrow night.

Wednesday, 15th May 2019, 6:06 pm
Pompey fans are ready to make it a memorable night under the lights at Fratton Park against Sunderland. Picture: Harry Murphy/Getty Images

You’ll sense it across the island city, the PO postcode outposts and in the journeys of every exile as they intensify their focus on the moment which lies in wait.

You’ll taste it in the sea spray sweeping in off the Solent and see it in the steely eyes of those zeroing in on PO4 from every direction, as they make the pilgrimage to their footballing Mecca.

You’ll note it in their up-for-it body language and purposeful footsteps, as those with royal blue in their blood march down Frogmore Road as dusk descends.

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Pompey fans are ready to make it a memorable night under the lights at Fratton Park against Sunderland. Picture: Harry Murphy/Getty Images

At 7.45pm their team will need every ounce of their energy and every star and crescent soul’s vocal chords voiced with all of their gusto.

But they already knew that. And they are ready.

Out of the ashes of an opening encounter which gave us little of the high-octane play-off drama we come to expect at this time of year and even less quality, it was Sunderland who snared the advantage. But hardly a decisive one.

It was a Pompey performance which underwhelmed, if a stoic approach and defensive mindset which was entirely expected and, while 11-a-side, pretty understandable.

With away goals redundant the 1-0 loss was hardly the calamitous outcome some portrayed it as, however. Because, as the result was digested, it was the reality Jack Ross’ now have to attempt to seal the deal at Fratton which came to the fore and lifted the spirits.

And what was to follow in the hours after the outcome at the Stadium of Light then really galvanised, as the truth there’s plenty of twists and turns to unfold yet in this play-off narrative was underlined.

It was the evidence everyone with Pompey at heart are bang up for this which roused the most.

Gareth Evans was first to offer a clear insight that is most certainly the case, in his deadpan post-match assessment on Saturday night.

‘It's only half-time and we said in the dressing room that we were 1-0 down half-time at Wembley,’ Evans revealed.

‘We went on to batter them in the second half - and that's fully what we intend to do on Thursday.’

These weren’t words spoken out of anger, but a simmering determination.

And so it continued.

In the world of social media, the language was hard-boiled and, as the days have passed, increasingly psyched up.

‘Don’t throw the ball back to Sunderland players, launch it - with your shoe,’ growled @Alex8911. ‘Don’t sing, scream. Time to get hostile and quite frankly, vile.’

‘Fratton Park needs to be a horrible, toxic bearpit,’ succinctly added @JSweetman92.

Now no one is condoning overstepping the mark here, but the sentiment has been bang on. Imagery of that special Fratton night against AC Milan has been conjured - and that’s what is needed.

Fratton crackled for the last play-off game hosted around these parts three years ago, when Plymouth arrived for the first-leg tie.

‘I felt like I was playing in a top-end Championship game,’ said former Plymouth defender Peter Hartley of that evening.

‘Portsmouth fans sucked the ball quite literally into our box because of the roar and noise of them. We couldn’t get out of our half in the second 45 minutes and how Pompey didn’t score to win the game, I’ll never know.’

Even Sunderland boss Ross noted the impact of the home crowd as his side succumbed to a 3-1 defeat in December.

‘It felt like a top-level game,’ he reflected as he addressed the assembled press at the weekend.

Kenny Jackett references Wigan and Paul Cook’s return last season as the occasion Fratton rocked in an atmosphere high of his reign.

Now it needs to be that and then some - and Pompey know it.

The drifting odds after the game sees a position assumed this football club is well versed in. It’s also a standpoint from which you’ll see Portsmouth Football Club at its very best.

The backs are to the wall and history tells you that has provided the setting for some of the most memorable moments over 121 years of existence.

The hearts will pump, the pulses will quicken and the tension will reach fever pitch as two of the game’s most venerable names collide.

Then it’s over to those chosen 11 royal blue men and the football gods to decide Pompey’s fate in this most dramatic of end-of-season settings.

Their home at its irresistible, indomitable and white-hot best remains one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sights in the game.

In the 63 years since it staged football’s first match under the lights, Fratton Park has told night-time tales of heroic deeds.

The stars above PO4 can speak of Dickinson, Harris and Reid. They can remember famous cup exploits, title wins and moments carved deep into the club’s psyche.

As those pylons are used to provide Pompey their stage one last time, we await a final act fitting for their send-off.