Tranmere 0 Portsmouth 2: Neil Allen's verdict - It's Sean Raggett for England as Blues history makers march on

The chant which emerged on 41 minutes was unmistakable, although necessitated another listen for clarification.

Sunday, 9th February 2020, 9:09 am
Updated Sunday, 9th February 2020, 2:55 pm

After all, calls of ‘Raggett for England’ have hardly been commonplace at Pompey fixtures this season.

It was tongue in cheek, of course, a light-hearted nod to the burgeoning form of an on-loan centre-half once much maligned.

The Fratton faithful can afford to smile these days, similarly Kenny Jackett was later requested to deliver a wave to the 1,379 noisy followers.

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Sean Raggett's maiden Pompey goal helped establish a club-record nine successive wins. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com

Back in September, Pompey’s boss had to conduct post-match interviews in Wycombe’s tunnel, due to away fans lingering inside the stadium, eager to vent their anger following late defeat.

We await songs championing his England appointment, perhaps with Raggett as the lynchpin of his World Cup finals defence.

Still, opinions change, as do periods of results, and those present at Prenton Park witnessed the establishing on a remarkable club record.

For the first time since Pompey entered the Football League 99 years ago, they have registered nine successive wins in all competitions.

Under Jackett, the Blues last term twice levelled the feat – now he has an achievement unparalleled in club history.

There is a wonderful feelgood factor embracing Fratton Park at present. The consequence of winning matches on a consistent basis can never be underestimated.

It seems aeons ago when Pompey struggled for clean sheets, failed to earn points on the road, while possessed an infuriating penchant for shipping in late goals.

Now supporters are chanting about promotion, despite having only entered League One’s top five for the first time on Saturday.

Not that their optimism is misplaced, the team has evolved impressively, as they tend to do throughout any campaign. It’s an entirely natural process, managers discover their best side and winning formulas.

Take Raggett, for instance, the centre-half who endured a torrid start to life at Fratton Park.

Negative fan reaction towards to his initial performances were certainly not unreasonable, while the Blues themselves scoured the transfer market in January for a left-sided rival.

At Tranmere, the Norwich player registered his maiden goal for the club to maintain the recent flurry of contributions from the central-defensive area.

Yet it was the challenge of carrying out duties on the deteriorating Prenton Park pitch in which Raggett truly excelled, his no-nonsense demeanour perfectly in tune with requirements.

The 26-year-old afterwards branded it as the ‘worst pitch I have played on in my career’, incidentally a career which has consisted of non-league spells.

A wag in the press box commented how, if it was a cricket match, the hosts would have incurred a sizeable fine over the state of a playing surface largely devoid of grass.

With beach-like flanks a no-go area for direct wingers and areas reminiscent of a field fallowed in preparation for the planting of turnips, the encounter with the League One strugglers was never going to be a classic.

As it turned out, relegation-threatened Tranmere surprised us with their heart and determination, irrespective of the scoreline, and how an under-par Blues were reliant on Raggett and his partner-in-crime Burgess.

Certainly, had newly-paired strikeforce James Vaughan and Andy Cook been less wasteful in the opening 45 minutes, the outcome may have been a little different.

Still, Jackett’s men dug in admirably, to the extent of holding the ball in corners during time added on, despite the advantage of a two-goal lead. Don’t let the 2-0 scoreline fool you.

For man-of-the-match Raggett, the occasion was tailor-made, a street-fighting player who operates without fear or his own well-being, prepared to scrap, willing to scuffle, no holds barred.

He was faultless on an afternoon necessitating a safety-first approach on that wretched pitch, often peppering the stands, even disposing of a ball out of the stadium early in the first half.

With no margin for error, it represented intelligent defending from the former Lincoln man, who is establishing himself as something of a cult figure among Pompey fans, hence the England shouts.

Of the many central-defensive partnerships trialled this season, Jackett has settled on the current pairing, and steadily they have installed a critical backbone.

In terms of League One fixtures, Tranmere represented a fourth successive clean sheet – and a sixth in Pompey’s last nine league outings.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch, the Blues have now scored in a staggering 24 consecutive fixtures in all competitions, with a centre-half netting in four straight weekends.

In total, that’s two losses in 24 matches, a sustained period of positive results which have positioned Jackett’s men three points adrift of second place with two games in hand.

At Tranmere, the scoresheet also had a very different look about it, with Ryan Williams joining Raggett in the goal-scoring honours.

The deadlock was broken on 13 minutes after Ronan Curtis had been fouled by Kane Wilson, earning a free-kick down the left.

The in-form Irishman did the honours, his right-footed delivered clearing the defensive line and bouncing, with Raggett arriving ahead of the keeper to head home from six-yards out.

Then, on 51 minutes, Williams chimed in with the crucial second to effectively seal the fixture.

The tireless winger’s work-rate and defensive qualities continue to earn him the nod ahead of Marcus Harness on the right flank, albeit signifying a drop in finishing power.

Goals have been lacking for the Australian, yet he registered his second in 26 appearances this season following neat work down the left flank.

Cameron McGeehan’s clever pass put through Curtis and he unselfishly squared to Willaims on his right, although the ball was slightly behind.

Nonetheless, he took two touches before digging out a left-footed shot from the edge of the area which keeper Scott Davies allowed to squirm through his dive.

Far from that second goal breaking the back of Tranmere, the hosts continued to pose problems, although lacked a telling final delivery, particularly from crosses from the flanks.

The Blues defended stoutly, however, with Tom Naylor inevitably lending a hand and Ben Close demonstrating other aspects to his game on a pitch which struggled to accommodate passing.

Had it not been for Coventry’s last-gasp winner over Bolton, Jackett’s troops would have ended the day in fourth.

The two clubs will now go head-to-head at St Andrew’s on Tuesday evening as once a season of underachievement becomes an ever-intriguing promotion challenge.