Wycombe 1 Portsmouth 0: Neil Allen's verdict - Kenny Jackett desperate for redemption after fresh fan condemnation
Adams Park once offered salvation to Paul Cook, now it has delivered damnation to Kenny Jackett.
The mind casts back to two-and-a-half years ago, when an emotional Cook was hoisted back upon his feet by the outstretched hand of Pompey’s travelling support.
Successive 1-0 losses against Exeter and then the Chairboys, fierce play-off adversaries, laid the Blues’ then-boss low, yet the anticipated backlash never emerged.
Instead, for 30 minutes post final whistle, in defeat the Fratton faithful’s spirits remained undiminished, warm in song and generous in player appreciation, it heartened the melancholic Cook.
Pompey lost two more of their remaining 18 League Two fixtures, claiming the title on a dramatic final day.
Saturday represented the second visit to Buckinghamshire since that pivotal pick-me-up, except on this occasion the supporter statement signalled further disintegration of Jackett’s rapidly-dissolving power.
Pompey’s boss urgently needs to restore fan belief in his promotion vision. Currently he is losing friends with each insipid display.
Adebayo Akinfenwa’s penalty seven minutes from time was greeted with elation from the home support – and chants of ‘We want Jackett out’ from their guests for the afternoon.
Patience snapped, for the first time of Jackett’s tenure supporters turned on the manager during a match. It was a watershed moment in the Tornante era.
Certainly there is no suggestion the 57-year-old has lost the faith of the club’s owners, the contract scheduled to expire in 2021 appears watertight at present.
Yet the paying public, those attending matches rather than denouncing from arm’s length through social media, have begun to vent their discontent.
Not all, however, as demonstrated by those gathered in front of the team coach post match, keen to convey opinions to Jackett as he hitched his ride.
Pompey’s boss politely answered questions delivered in a respectful manner by reasoned supporters, twice earning a smattering of applause as a display of their gratitude.
This was no hostile confrontation. Encouragingly, passionate feelings have yet to rise to such an uncomfortable level, irrespective of the plummet in fan affection Jackett is currently embroiled in.
Nonetheless, he is challenged with an almighty scrap to change perception of his Pompey management – starting with the Carabao Cup visit of Southampton on Tuesday evening.
For a side once again expected to feature among the promotion front runners, Saturday marked one victory from the Blues’ opening seven League One fixtures, a dismal start condemning them to 20th spot.
The curious deployment of Oli Hawkins alongside Christian Burgess in the centre of defence at Adams Park proved, in fairness, an initial triumph.
Maybe that hole has been plugged, albeit still early days granted, yet leaks continue to spring elsewhere in this creaking vessel.
There’s the lack of service for one of League One’s most prolific strikers in John Marquis, Ronan Curtis’ absence of end product which is blunting his former effectiveness, how to correctly utilise the goal-scoring talents of Brett Pitman, while an erosion of team confidence is now startlingly impacting upon collective displays.
On Saturday, there was the addition of abject set-piece delivery, with Andy Cannon, Curtis and Brandon Haunstrup all failing to fulfil such duties in the absence of unused substitute Gareth Evans.
For a squad assembled to surpass last term’s fourth-placed finish, naturally a target of continued progression, the Blues have given no discernible impression they are up to such a task.
And now sections of support are publicly calling for the head of their manager during matches.
The eroding of fan conviction has been far from knee-jerk, traced back to two colourless performances in the League One play-offs against Sunderland.
Then arrived the costly Christian Burgess substitute error against Coventry, followed by a lamentable display against 10-man Burton to scramble a last-gasp draw.
Pompey netted 109 goals last season, criticism centring on Jackett’s attacking methods by using previous campaigns as evidence is wide of the mark, there are far more accurate jibes to fire his way.
Nonetheless, this present crop look devoid of creativity, his penchant for power and pace down the wings serving as architects for scoring opportunities is flailing, inspiration continues to be absent, even when handed the numerical advantage.
On Saturday, it was a straight gun fight, 10 v 10, against Wycombe, following the 55th-minute sending offs of Nnamdi Ofoborh and Ellis Harrison. The outcome was just as lacklustre.
Pompey have evolved from last season, the departures of Matt Clarke, Jamal Lowe and Nathan Thompson have dictated that, exits driven by themselves rather than the club.
League One without their classy presence has started appallingly – and the Adams Park visit hammered home another reminder of the Blues’ ills.
Jackett made four changes to the side which drew 2-2 against Burton, another reshuffle in an attempt to unearth a winning formula.
James Bolton was ready to slot into the right-back slot he had long been earmarked, allowing Burgess to return to the centre of defence and freeing up Tom Naylor to reunited with Ben Close in midfield.
Meanwhile, Hawkins earned his first league start of the campaign, albeit at centre-half, a role he last lined-up in 19 months ago at MK Dons.
That relegated Paul Downing to the bench and, with Sean Raggett as 19th man, signified the exile of the pair recruited in the summer to serve as first-choice centre-halves.
Hawkins, however, was outstanding upon his return, dominant both in the air and on the ground, and comfortably Pompey’s man of the match during an abject team showing.
Another granted a recall was Harrison, yet his involvement ended early following a harsh second yellow card in the skirmish after Ofoborh’s awful challenge on Naylor, which also saw the Wycombe man see red.
At least that moment brought the match to life, both teams contributing to an awful spectacle, punctuated by injuries, referee Sebastian Stockbridge’s fussiness and an alarming lack of quality.
Then, on 83 minutes, a Wycombe corner was delivered from the left and Naylor’s arm shot up like a periscope to inexplicably handle the ball at the far post during an aerial challenge.
Akinfenwa obliged from the penalty spot – and Pompey supporters discovered their voice in condemnation of their manager.
How Jackett requires a redemptive moment so appreciated by his predecessor. Despite growing supporter fears, perhaps Southampton is a timely encounter after all.