Promotion-chasing Portsmouth suffer defeat - but end goal remains firmly in sight

Let’s be honest, Pompey have failed to get their way.

Tuesday, 9th June 2020, 5:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th June 2020, 5:16 pm

Despite Mark Catlin knowing the Blues would be guaranteed a League One play-off spot if the 2019-20 season was curtailed, he incessantly banged the drum that remaining fixtures should be fulfilled.

By the end, though, the Fratton chief executive knew his lobbying on the matter was proving futile.

Just too many clubs wanted to bring a premature end to the campaign amid the coronavirus crisis.

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Pompey will enter the League One play-offs after clubs voted to curtail the season. Picture: Joe Pepler

That has now been confirmed, following today’s historic vote.

A defeat in many respects.

However, it’s a loss that does Pompey’s promotion hopes little damage.

Instead of being nine games away from a possible return to the Championship – just three fixtures stand in their way.

It’s not a bad position to be in really, when you think about it.

Although, there’s ultimately two less promotion spots to play for.

From a footballing perspective, ending a season using a points-per-game formula is simply wrong.

Imagine if the same horrific pandemic had swept the globe in March 2006, for example.

Pompey's Great Escape in 2006 would never have happened.

The Blues will therefore feel aggrieved they didn't get a chance to clinch automatic promotion on the pitch and write another famous chapter in their history book.

Sitting just two points outside the top two with nine games remaining, and against the backdrop of a club-record nine straight wins, confidence in the Fratton Park camp was high.

Factor in, too, the fact they still had to travel to second-placed Rotherham – a side faced with a torrid run of final fixtures, and it indeed would have been a tantalising business end of the campaign.

Instead, the Champagne corks will be popped at the New York Stadium as the yo-yoing Millers once again head back to the Championship, along with champions Coventry.

But, as already mentioned, the Blues shouldn’t lament the curtailment of the campaign too much.

Had the term been completed as normal, there were no guarantees of a top-six finish given how close the table was back in March was games were then suspended..

Peterborough chairman Darragh MacAnthony has been ruing a premature end – and you can hardly blame him.

Given the beating Ivan Toney & Co inflicted on Pompey the weekend before football shut down, there wouldn't have been a single member of the Fratton faithful disputing the Posh's promotion credentials.

Sunderland, too, are capable of beating any side on their day, likewise Doncaster and Ipswich.

But rather than an extended play-off which was mooted as part of Tranmere’s alternative prosposal, Pompey enter a traditional four-team tournament they'll be favourites to progress from when the bookmakers get round to compiling their odds.

If you'd have said the Blues would be pitched against Oxford, Fleetwood and Wycombe in the play-offs back in August, dare I say substantial contingents of fans would have snatched at the chance.

All three teams are opponents Jackett’s men have enjoyed success against this season.

Pompey will face Oxford in their respective semi-finals, which will take their meetings to four this term.

Let’s forget the Trophy clash at the Kassam Stadium in October – even though the Blues salvaged a 2-2 draw.

In that game, Jackett fielded a side largely made up of fringe players.

However, when they faced off in the league a month later at Fratton Park, Pompey were by far the better side.

Matty Taylor’s late header snatched Oxford a 1-1 draw, but the Blues should have had the three points wrapped well before then.

Either Fleetwood or Wycombe could lie in wait in the final.

Pompey’s three games with the Cod Army have been as tight as they come.

The Blues won 2-1 at Highbury Stadium in the FA Cup third round, before falling to a 1-0 loss at the same venue in the league.

Meanwhile, it was Joey Barton’s men who visited PO4 prior to football being halted, with the spoils shared following a 2-2 draw.

Lessons will have been learned, though, while key defender Christian Burgess was suspended for the final showdown.

And while Pompey were lacklustre in a 1-0 loss at Wycombe in September, their 2-0 success in the reverse fixture on Boxing Day couldn’t have been more comfortable – putting the ghosts of a difficult start to the season firmly to bed.

There’s one small caveat supporters will know all too well, though, one that has caused so much pain down the years.

The Blues have infamously never won a play-off match in eight attempts.

That’s something that will no doubt play in the mind.

But now is hardly the time for self-doubt.

Pompey have another crack of the whip to earn promotion to the Championship.

They might have lost their latest battle off the pitch – but there’s one just as significant awaiting them on the field of play.

And it’s one many of their rivals will be wishing they were part off.

This is too good an opportunity to throw away after a difficult couple of months.

Now it’s time to put that record straight – a place in the Championship depends on it.