The strange days allowing Portsmouth to pretend they don't care with it all at stake against Oxford United

Blessed is he who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed, said one of our most famous poets in the 17th century.

Wednesday, 1st July 2020, 5:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 1st July 2020, 6:42 pm

Don’t expect much and they won’t let you down mush, says pretty much every Pompey fan at the moment.

There doesn’t seem to be a great deal between the enlightening words of Alexander Pope and what seems to be the sentiment which has characterised the build-up to football’s return to PO4 after nearly four months.

We are living in unprecedented times and that, of course, has everything to do with not quite knowing how to feel at the moment.

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A season’s work and toil for our football club is now hopefully coming down to the outcome of three games.

The result of what is about to unfold could potentially rest on a single moment governed by a flash of brilliance, individual lapse or error from a third party.

Yet, what’s going on around us at the moment makes obsessing about the outcome of events on Friday night feel somewhere between illogical and self-indulgent.

These emotions arrive at the end of an elongated season in which we’ve fumed at a home collapse against 10 men, heard repeated bloodcurdling calls for the manager’s head and stood proudly defiant in the face of a Premier League-sized lesson from our fiercest foe.

Christian Burgess dejected after the defeat at Plymouth in 2016.

There’s been powerful and intense flashpoints with all the miles, memories and emotional investment which has come with it.

Yet, the countdown to football’s high-stakes resumption at Fratton has been permeated by a detachment never seen before. Strange days have found us, strange days have tracked us down.

We’ve certainly had a few of those around here before but, even when the Pompey basket case was bouncing between administrations, nothing quite like this.

So we are thankful to now be allowed to partake in the step towards normality football’s offered us all on these shores over the past couple of weeks.

Tom Naylor is consoled following Pompey's play-off elimination at the hands of Sunderland last season

In truth, all of this has allowed much of the Fratton Faithful to move to a default setting under the cover of a pandemic.

Being fed false hope only to have it wrenched from our grasp has been a key part of a Pompey fan’s make-up down the years - and setting the bar at ankle height the next time is the ensuing step in that sequence.

Which sees us arrive at a position we’ve slipped quite comfortably into amid the chaos.

An opponent showing ominous form before football stopped and the Blues’ unrelenting ability to disappoint within the confines of the play-offs frames our emotions here, for sure. And certainly some doubt over what to expect from Kenny Jackett’s side compounds our standpoint.

Ian Ormondroyd scores his offside goal in 1993 for Leicester

Nine record-breaking wins, as many defeats as victories in the same amount of ensuing games and then a 116-day lay-off. So, quite frankly, who knows what we can expect come Friday tea-time.

What we can detect is a quiet confidence coming out of the Pompey camp since they stepped up their training within the realms of government guidelines.

The sabre-rattling has been thankfully absent but, after coming through the minefield of short-term contract extensions unscathed which could have left Jackett’s squad mortally wounded, there’s been an air of optimism around the Blues camp.

‘We’re looking very good, if I’m honest,’ striker Ellis Harrison told The News over the weekend. ‘The tempo has been very sharp. To be honest, it’s been the best it’s been since I’ve been here.’

It’s the kind of sentiment echoed up the A34, too, of course with no one inside or out of Pompey underestimating the challenge which lies ahead in these two games separated by a smidgen under 72 hours.

It’s a supporter’s lot to be concerned with hoodoos and jinxes as we enter the realms of play-off drama once again. Fortunately, those who have a direct influence over proceedings shouldn’t be so impacted by these thoughts.

‘In terms of the club’s run in this format, it has got to break some time and, if we play well, it should be this year,’ said Jackett ahead of his third play-off game as Pompey boss.

Even if memories of previous disappointments may be to the fore, the fact the circumstances around those failures aren’t being replicated is a tangible source of encouragement.

Four years ago Paul Cook’s side were ‘on their knees’ going into their play-off away tie at Plymouth.

His side’s final training session before the second leg was called off early through injury issues, before his decimated men eventually succumbed to stoppage-time defeat down in Devon.

Last year, Jackett’s side looked a shell of themselves as their season ended with a whimper against Sunderland. The failure to grasp the opportunity can be debated, but what wasn’t up to question was the impact a 62-game season had on legs.

We will not be able to legislate for decisions like the criminally offside leg of Ian Ormondroyd, which wrecked dreams of success during that other distant dalliance with the play-offs against Leicester in 1993.

But there’s enough going in this year to perhaps allow Pompey fans to stop preparing for the worst in the manner in which they have, with their club three results from the Championship.

Doing so would be allowing hope to pierce through our limited expectations, however, which are much easier to keep under control. So we’ll stay busy conditioning ourselves for failure and pretending we don’t care. For now.