Wycombe 0 Portsmouth 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Fighting as a team, scrapping as a team, 'celebrating promotion' as a team. The ultimate team display

Apparently matters got a little boisterous in Pompey’s dressing room during the aftermath.

Sunday, 14th November 2021, 9:00 am

According to Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth, the visitors celebrated ‘like they had been promoted’ following the Blues 1-0 triumph at Adams Park.

Sadly there has been sparse evidence that this squad is capable of clambering out of League One this season during the ongoing rebuild overseen by the current management.

So please forgive the overexuberance and let Danny Cowley’s men savour their moment.

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After nine away matches without victory, the desire to crack open a smile and roar approval is entirely understandable – and good luck to them.

The Blues had to dig deep on Saturday in an often breathless game of football, emerging not merely with a hard-earned 1-0 success but also the admiration of the 1,420 travelling faithful.

This was Pompey’s finest showing of the season, brimming with heart, fight, passion and an unconquerable team spirit so rarely glimpsed during the campaign to date.

The manner of display the previous weekend against Harrow Borough yielded a highly unsatisfactory win, generating frustration rather than adulation at comfortable progress in the FA Cup.

Alex Bass makes another late stop to thwart Wycombe as Pompey held on to triumph 1-0 at Adams Park. Picture: Graham Hunt/ProSportsImages

Adams Park produced the same scoreline, yet the levels of performance were world’s apart, unquestionably reinvigorating flagging belief among the Fratton faithful.

It has taken 100 days into the season, but finally a bar has been established. Now the challenge is for the Blues to maintain such lofty heights.

Admittedly, Wycombe may feel a little hard done-by having seen a penalty saved, Jason McCarthy strike a post, Sean Raggett clear off the line, and stunning late stops from the recalled Alex Bass.

But battling Pompey warranted their three points in recognition of their team cohesion and thirst for hard work. It wasn’t stylish, but outstanding in its own impressive way.

The fact they pulled off the 1-0 win in the absence of Gavin Bazunu and Joe Morrell, two of their best performers this season, makes the Chairboys outcome even more eye-catching.

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Certainly many were anticipating a thumping along the levels inflicted by Wycombe’s promotion rivals Rotherham and Ipswich last month, which had the more hysterical fans screaming a relegation campaign.

As pitiful as those defensive capitulations were, there remains nothing to suggest the Blues will be fighting to stay in League One – as Saturday proved.

Whether Cowley’s men are genuinely equipped to reach the play-offs has to be doubtful, yet Adams Park provided a tantalising glimpse at this team’s potential with the right ingredients in place.

Maybe, yes maybe, this side can achieve a top-10 finish this season, particularly on the evidence of the six unbeaten matches since that Ipswich debacle.

This was no smash and grab either. Led once again by George Hirst in the absence of John Marquis, a canny Cowley employed two up front, with Ronan Curtis partnering him, and a diamond midfield.

Curtis and Marcus Harness had great chances amid a tough first half and Louis Thompson should have had a penalty, while, during an improved second half, there were other opportunities, capped off by Harness’ 73rd-minute winner.

Unquestionably, Pompey threatened on the counter regularly, through the mobility of Hirst, and energy and commitment of the belligerent Irishman.

In the case of Hirst, he has been a revelation since handed a start in the midweek 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace under-21s in the Papa John’s Trophy.

Marquis had been persevered with for too long, a team selection dangerously by default rather than deserving of his place. Now Hirst has added a fresh dimension to this Blues side.

Barely a week ago it appeared highly likely the Leicester City loanee would be returned to the Premier League at the halfway point of the arrangement, a damning reflection of his impact.

Of course, in mitigation, at the time 11 of his 13 outings had been from the bench, with not a single start in League One, as the toiling Marquis remained the favoured option.

Now, with the former Doncaster man sidelined by injury, Hirst has been given his place and, in these early days of his first-team regular stint, has transformed the Blues’ attacking options.

The 22-year-old’s physicality, height and ability to retain possession has long been absent from Pompey’s front line and suddenly offers a very different threat.

Granted, Hirst has still missed goal-scoring opportunities in both game, let’s be frank, yet so did Marquis, whose disappointing haul of four games in 18 appearances was also accompanied by plummeting levels of form.

There will be dips with the former England youth international, his age and inexperience will dictate it, yet presently, a mere two games in, the promise is encouraging.

Fittingly, it was Hirst who laid on the winner for leading scorer Harness, albeit the decisive finish hardly convincing.

Curtis’ ball down the left freed Hirst, who had cleverly beaten the offside trap, and he unselfishly squared a cross to the far post to the onrushing Harness.

It represented a tap-in, yet, inexplicably, the winger stubbed his initial shot and had to then slide in a second attempt – and, fortunately, succeeded.

A seventh goal of the season from arguably the best finisher in Pompey’s squad and, while this clearly wasn’t his finest, it didn’t spoil his joyous moment, celebrating with noisy away supporters positioned in the stand behind.

Admittedly, such an outcome appeared unlikely considering how the match started, with Cowley’s men put under heavy pressure during the opening 20 minutes from the impressive Chairboys.

With Bazunu and Morrell missing through international duty, and Marquis and Reeco Hackett out with injury, the head coach made four changes to the side which drew 1-1 to Cheltenham in their last League One outing.

In came Bass, Hirst, Miguel Azeez and Sean Williams – and it was the keeper on his second league start of the season who would also be instrumental in victory.

On 28 minutes, Anis Mehmeti won a soft penalty against Raggett, yet the normally reliable Joe Jacobson sent his left-footed spot kick straight down the middle and into the arms of Bass.

The keeper would later pull off two magnificent stoppage-time saves, particularly from Sam Vokes, while McCarthy struck the post in a tense finale.

For Pompey, there were heroes all over the pitch, from man-of-the-match Raggett and his blossoming central-defensive partnership with Connor Ogilvie, to Bass, Hirst and Louis Thompson.

A complete team performance from a committed group of players. Superb.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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