Well, it might have been. "proper game of football", but after a fairly even first half, it turned on a penalty (correctly given) and the subsequent red card (not so sure) and Pompey took their chances to deservedly take the three points.
A fairly relaxed 06:20 start preceded a fairly relaxed journey south, livened up by stopping at the same services as some Boro fans. When I say "livened up" I mean three or four lads shouted "we hate Boro" while the rest of us wondered where they were headed. Reading and victory, as it turned out. Typically, we'd made good time me when Pompey hove into view...and we did a bit of a tour of the city before going around all four sides of the ground. That put paid to a trip to the Jolly Sailor, and we made do with the Good Companion -which ran out of beer at ten to two. So, we headed to the Shepherd's Crook, having a chat with Charlie M on the way, regarding Oviedo's likelihood of departure in January. I'm not telling.
It had run out before we got there, (I'm a fussy drinker) so we bit the bullet and went into the ground for a pie, where the steward told us he only does the away end because he likes chatting to visiting supporters, and he won't go near the nutter with the bell. There was plenty of time to discuss the team selection, and wonder what tactical masterplan Ross had up his sleeve - there had to be, with that lineup.
O''Nien Loovens Baldwin James
Gooch Honeyman McGeady
No Maja? No Maguire? Soak up pressure, hit them on the break, bring Maja on in the second half to get a goal, then Maguire to see the game out. Aye, that must be it. No Matthews in the squad - must be insured. Shame.
A full house, and a cracking atmosphere as the home side kicked off, with us attacking the end furthest from our fans. As that's where the drum and the bell are, I'll call it the bell end.
From the off, it was a hotly contested affair, with the ball moving at pace from one end to the other McLaughlin was forced into a couple of standard saves before the hosts won the afternoon's first corner, which we dealt with before flying up the other end to win one of our own. O'Nien, getting up and down the right, got in a shot which was blocked and the keeper tipped away Watmore's follow-up.
There was another save from McLaughlin, and a couple of times Pompey knocked it over the top, forcing Loovens to turn and chase back - a sight not for the faint hearted, especially as it was right in front of us, and you're within touching distance of the net at Fratton Park. Baldwin had to produce a couple of vital tackles/interceptions in our box, but when we got it out there was some nice passing stuff, although we did give it away too often. Unfortunately, we didn't create any real chances because of this, and, while the pace dropped a bit, the challenges kept flying in. O'Nien was having a fair old wrestling match with his winger, and things looked to have boiled over when Honeyman was on the receiving end of what looked a naughty one near halfway on the right.
Catts certainly thought it was naughty, and for a moment there was pushing and shoving, with the home fans leaning over the barrier and screaming at the ref. Presumably they wanted a card, but we'd decided by then that he was only getting cards out in the event of a weapon being used.
On the half hour, a foul on Loovens gave Baldwin the chance to start something, but Pompey cleared only for us to get forward again. McGeady did his usual steppy-over stuff before hitting a belter that a Pompey player immediately wished he hadn't flung himself in the way of, ending up in a deflated heap as his marras cleared the loose ball.
O'Nien's nice ball round the fullback set Watmore away, and he steamed into the area from the right only to be tackled as he shaped to shoot. There was a momentary intake of breath in our end, as it was a hefty challenge, but he was straight up. More passes like that might have brought reward for Dunc, but we couldn't manage them. He tried his luck on the left, but his cross wasn't close enough to Gooch.
The single added minute was seen out with Catts protecting his defence after a bit of home pressure and another bout of their big number nine causing Loovens grief. We ended on a high, with Watmore nicking the ball and setting up Gooch to see his shot saved.
0-0, and I was happy with that. We wondered if the tactical changes would happen immediately, or if Ross would give it ten minutes, but we did need to start testing their keeper more.
Give it ten minutes, apparently, as the same eleven appeared once the choir had finished their Christmas medley. Despite us kicking off, it was the home side who threatened first, and the option for tactical substitutions went out of the window on 47. As Hawkins, a pest all afternoon, broke down the inside-left channel, Loovens was fighting a losing race to catch him, and there looked to be a pull before the pair got onto the box, where he made sure by catching his opponent's foot. Penalty, then a red card. I thought that they'd done away with the double/triple punishment of penalty, losing a player, and having him banned (as did the Pompey fan on the radio after the match) but obviously not.
No mistake by Evans, 1-0, and on came Ozturk, with Watmore's attacking threat being sacrificed in favour of keeping a defence. Only five minutes later, Curtis got the better of our replacement centre half, coming in from the left to put it across McLaughlin and into the far side of the net.
Awe, man... but it got a bit better, after we spent five minutes showing that we still intended to go for it. O''Nien appeared in the box on the end of a deep cross from Power to volley in. Bedlam! C'mon! We can do this! Honeyman, who'd been his usual non-stop self, made way for Maguire. Half an hour for him to provide some magic moments and get us something.
Nah, it didn't quite work out that way, but it took some good Portsmouth defending too keep out Gooch on our right straight after the change. We had a couple of threatening moments, including Gooch almost getting to a weak back pass before the keeper, but then it went all wrong again on 64. McLaughlin made a good save following a corner, but lack of numbers meant they got to the loose ball first and it was drilled in by Thompson for 3-1.
Still plenty of time, but would we have the guile to match our hard work and actually score at least two goals? Gooch did well to get into the box, but shot way over the top, then nearly got a toe in when the keeper took two goes to claim the ball. There was last-ditch defending at both ends, then we made our third change, with McGeady replaced by Sinclair. Hmm. No Maja, who's surely a better bet to nick a goal.
The last fifteen were a lot of huff and puff, a free header put wide by Hawkins when he really should have scored, a fourth Pompey goal ruled offside, and more charging about by Gooch. There were six added minutes, in which Portsmouth ran the clock down and our Lads accepted the inevitable. Their keeper incurred our wrath by telling the ball boy to drop the ball meaning a slow jog across the box and time wasted. At least the ref indicated that he was adding time on for it, and you have to feel sorry for the bairn - the abuse he got was savage.
Then it was all over. You couldn't fault our effort but failing to be accurate enough without passing in the first half probably blew our chance of getting ahead. The red obviously and dramatically changed things, and while there was little between the sides in terms of football, they created and took their chances and we didn't. There'll no doubt be questions about not using Maja, which is understandable. I'm asking, for sure.
Now to bounce back on Boxing Day. Have Bradford got a bit big centre forward?
Man of the Match? Luke O'Nien. Settled down after getting a bit too enthusiastic in his marking, scored, and kept going to the end