What we learnt from Pompey's win at Stevenage

News sports writer Jordan Cross provides us with three things we learnt from Pompey's 2-0 win at Stevenage.

Monday, 7th March 2016, 11:00 am
Gary Roberts made a welcome return to the Pompey starting XI at Stevenage Picture: Joe Pepler

Talisman Roberts was worth the risk

By Paul Cook’s own admission, it was a risk.

But rolling the dice on Gary Roberts’ fitness paid off at Stevenage.

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The good news going into the trip to the Lamex Stadium was Michael Smith, Adam McGurk and Roberts were closing in on returns after returning to training on Thursday,

McGurk appeared to be ahead of the rest as he warmed up at Exeter on Tuesday.

In the event, Cook gambled with Roberts, chucked Smith on the bench and left McGurk out of the 18.

It took 22 minutes to underline why the Pompey boss was prepared to do that.

Lee Cox was pickpocketed by the attacking talent, who then opened up the Boro defence with a pass of exquisite weight for Marc McNulty.

The Scot feasted greedily on the creativity with his slotted finish.

Roberts was touted as the division’s top talent after his summer arrival to great fanfare.

Goals and assists have arrived but injuries have halted the impact from being as seismic as he would have liked.

There’s no doubt the Scouser is Pompey’s talisman, though.

A fit Gary Roberts could be decisive in the coming weeks.

Forward-thinking philosophy

Eyebrows have been raised by substitutions made by Paul Cook in the past couple of games.

And, naturally perhaps, supporters were quick to align the switches to the two last-minute goals conceded going into the trip to Stevenage.

Cook was quick and honest enough to explain his defensive change against Cambridge United was as the result of his lack of attacking options.

It was a similar story as Adam Barton and Gareth Evans were sent on in place of Conor Chaplin and Kyle Bennett at Exeter.

Cook was considering throwing on Ben Tollitt as a striker at St James Park – an alien role for the promising teenage and a gamble, no doubt.

But with a bench loaded with options on Saturday there was only one way the Pompey boss was going to go.

Kal Naismith, Michael Smith and Kieron Freeman were the trio introduced – and each added a dimension to Pompey’s play on the front foot.

It underlined, given the options, Cook instincts will be to press forward.

Push up and press

Pompey’s identity crisis lasted two games.

Paul Cook promised his experiment with ‘winning ugly’ had been canned after Tuesday’s draw at Exeter.

Cook didn’t like what he saw at St James Park from his players.

Even if they were following orders.

‘We’ve wanted results,’ said Cook.

‘And just wanting results? Nah, it’s not for me.

‘I’ll take criticism, but if we are going to get beat we’ll get beat playing with a bit of style.’

Now, don’t think for a second that meant Pompey painted beautiful passing patterns at Stevenage. They didn’t.

But, in deteriorating conditions, the philosophy was to play and create. Not to nullify.

With Pompey one up and retreating deeper in the second half, Cook was furiously on to his players to push up and press.

The braver approach should have reaped bigger dividends, as Pompey found space behind the Stevenage lines as they pushed for a way back into the game.