Why Ben Close’s goal against Accrington typified his hurtling Portsmouth progress
Sports writer Will Rooney assesses the talking points from the 1-1 draw with Accrington...
CLOSE’S GOAL TYPIFIES HIS PROGRESS
The curtain-closer of the regular season proved to be a sombre occasion on the whole at Fratton Park.
After a white-hot atmosphere created by the Fratton faithful against Peterborough, supporters struggled to really get up for the game against Stanley.
The disappointment of the Posh loss and its ramifications still fresh, coupled with the deceivingly cold weather, were the likely reasons.
And Pompey's performance was similar – missing out on automatic promotion was always going to have an impact.
While the game won’t go down in Blues folklore, Ben Close will always remember it.
The Southsea midfielder finally netted in front of the Fratton End – something he always dreamed about when coming up through the club’s youth ranks.
All of Close’s previous 10 goals had come either away from home or at the Milton End.
Finally, that much-eluded strike in front of Pompey’s most famous stand arrived in the 59th minute – and what a strike it was.
The goal epitomised his hurtling progress during the second half of the season.
Driving forward from midfield, he played a neat one-two with Oli Hawkins, before deceiving visiting keeper Dimitar Evtimov by firing into the near corner.
The thrust, craft and confidence Close displayed underlined that he's taken his game to the next level.
Always regarded as a player who was cool in possession, he’s now contributing with goals on a regular basis.
It was the 22-year-old’s ninth of the season – and eighth since Ben Thompson’s return to Millwall.
He so could have reached double figures as well when a superb right-footed effort crashed off the bar.
Close has stepped up magnificently since Thompson’s departure and was deservedly named man of the match against Stanley.
FIRST GOAL CONCERN
By his own admission, Kenny Jackett has been disappointed with his side’s recent defensive record.
Pompey have failed to register a clean sheet in eight matches, while one hasn’t arrived at Fratton Park for the best part of two months.
What’s more concerning, though, is the Blues have conceded the opening goals in their past four matches.
Against Coventry, Jackett’s men did battle back to deliver a 2-1 victory.
And while Pompey fought gamely to earn draws with Sunderland and Accrington, a two-goal deficit against Peterborough ultimately gave them a mountain to climb and put paid to their automatic promotion hopes.
There’s no questioning the Blues’ resolve or attitude when they go a goal behind.
The 1-1 draw at the Black Cats, the Checkatrade Trophy final triumph and the 1-1 stalemate against promotion-chasing Doncaster in February are all examples of the heart Jackett’s troops have displayed when they’ve been pinned back.
However, it’s undoubtedly a trait that needs eradicating entering the play-offs.
Now there’s more emphasis on the play-offs being a cup format, the opening goal will prove even more pivotal.
When the teams came out an hour before kick-off, no-one was surprised Kenny Jackett made five changes to his starting line-up.
The curveball, though, was Jamal Lowe’s omission from Pompey’s squad.
Fatigue was the reason the boss gave when conducting his post-match interviews.
Jackett wanted his chief attacking threat revitalised for the play-offs.
However, Pompey’s draw with Accrington meant they were pipped to third place by Charlton with a better goal difference of just one.
That means the Blues now meet Sunderland in the play-off semi-final.
On paper, it’s a significantly tougher challenge than facing Doncaster, who Pompey would have faced if they clinched third.
While the play-offs are considered a lottery, the fact Donny finished 12 points behind the Black Cats suggests there’s a gulf in quality between the two.
Add in the fact the Blues have drawn with Sunderland twice over 90 minutes this season, and Jack Ross’ men will be out for revenge, adds to the occasion.
If Jackett had have had Lowe on the bench, he could well have come on and conjured a winner for the Blues against Accrington.
Let’s hope the decision reaps the dividends in the play-offs.