What we learnt from Pompey's win at Dagenham
Fan dissatisfaction gives way to joy as Michael Doyle and Gary Roberts step up against Daggers. NEIL ALLEN analyses...
Big players stepped up to manager’s demands
When Paul Cook required his big players to rise up and save the day, Pompey’s boss was done proud.
Gary Roberts possesses a talented knack of scoring goals and laying on assists, especially on timely occasions.
Similarly, Michael Doyle’s consistency and all-action displays would surely guarantee him a top-three placing in everyone’s player of the season vote.
Fittingly, both combined for the 59th-minute equaliser which turned the Dagenham & Redbridge fixture on its head.
Roberts collected Enda Stevens’ ball down the left and pulled a cross back to the edge of the area.
It was met by a sweet left-footed volley by Doyle from just inside the box for a precious leveller.
The moment had arrived out of nothing, with the Blues’ first on-target attempt – and once again Cook’s big players had delivered.
In previous away matches since the turn of the year, Roberts set up Marc McNulty for the winner at Stevenage and equalised late on at Yeovil.
He was also a star turn at Accrington – a 3-1 victory in which Doyle weighed in with his goal-of-the-season contender.
The experienced duo are both crucial presences in Cook’s team as the promotion run-in continues.
And, so far, they are revelling in expectations.
Never a truer word
Pompey’s players wouldn’t have needed educating on their below-par display during the opening 45 minutes.
Similarly, when the equaliser failed to materialise 10 minutes after the break, it was not necessary to explain their shortcomings.
Nonetheless, by making their feelings known, those 1,659 away supporters generated the response they craved.
Such is the layout of the Victoria Ground, the dressing rooms are housed in the Traditional Builders Stand, positioned behind the goal.
That is also the end which contains the away fans, ensuring the Blues’ struggling players had to walk through a tunnel flanked by their own supporters.
Clearly much was said following the half-time whistle by supporters appalled at their team’s awful display during that first half.
It would not have been a pleasant journey to the changing rooms for Paul Cook’s men – who then received a rollicking from their manager.
Trailing by Ashley Hemmings’ spectacular overhead-kick, Pompey were deservedly behind at the break and warranted criticism regardless of where it originated.
Yet more was still to come as they continued struggling to put keeper Mark Cousins under pressure after the interval.
There was the Conor Chaplin chant, renditions of ‘He’s one of our own’ directed in Cook’s direction as a hint to bring on the teenage striker.
Moments later a song of ‘This is embarrassing’ rang out from sections of a support which outnumbered those home fans.
Michael Doyle afterwards admitted he heard such a reaction, and felt at that point the players had lost some of their fans.
Yet the response was devastating as the visitors showed immense character to turn it around and win 4-1.
Winger continues as creative force for Blues
They are some who will never be convinced of the talent that is Kyle Bennett.
Regardless, he continues to be Pompey’s chief creative threat, albeit frustratingly erratic.
Yet in recent weeks the 25-year-old has demonstrated a consistency so far missing from his Fratton Park career.
His goal on Saturday, a solo run into the box to complete the 4-1 scoreline, was a fourth in seven matches.
It also took his tally to seven in 47 games since a summer switch from Doncaster Rovers.
In addition, from free-kicks delivered from the right, Bennett picked up assists in the headed goals of Christian Burgess and then Gareth Evans.
That took his assist tally to 13 for the season in all competitions.
Granted, even that won’t be enough to change the mind of the rabid critics which exist among the Fratton faithful.
However, for a player to be directly responsible for 20 of Pompey’s goals so far this season is impressive by anyone’s standards.
Bennett can be infuriating, yet he never goes hiding, constantly wanting the ball and having the bravery to attempt to create.
There are times when his attacking instincts come to nothing, through being tackled or a misplaced pass, yet the winger won’t stop trying.
He has received boos and criticism many times during the campaign, but the statistics tell the story.
Bennett is a match-winner – and how the Blues need him.