It's been a week since the Southend debacle and I've just about managed to put that and the League One campaign behind me and am trying to look on these two matches against Portsmouth as a separate thing altogether. I've never seen us beat Portsmouth since I don't know when and they've become a bogey team but that's got to end sometime. Their form has taken a dip too and I'm hoping a bit of floodlit magic in the later stages backed by as big a crowd as possible will get us a win tonight. All this takeover speculation has overshadowed the team news for me but it looks like McGeady will be back for at least some of the game and Portsmouth won't like that. I'd like to see both O'Nien and Sterling on from the off as they made a big impact last Saturday. I'll be watching the game along with a load of the London Branch at the Old Red Lion pub in Angel so I'll be getting there early to get a decent spot. Match prediction: 2-1 to us.
I got to the pub around 7.00 in time to see the end of Leeds and Derby knocking seven bells out of each other and there was a bad omen when the Guinness ran out for the night half way through my pint being poured. Anyway, I managed to get a great spot in front of the big screen next to a very excited Leeds fan who, after his side won 1-0, wished us well in our match. There was much red and white in evidence but when I asked the SAFC-clad woman next to me if she had the team news, she couldn't understand my accent and thought I was asking for the time though once we'd established a rapport, I discovered we were playing 4-5-1 with Wyke upfront and Grigg on the bench while Morgan, Flanagan, Gooch and Oviedo were also starting. I was expecting McGeady but couldn't see where he was. There was much roaring in the bar as we first saw the teams in the tunnel and as far as I could see there was a good crowd in the stadium.
We kicked off attacking the North Stand and Portsmouth did most of the early pressing but we won the first corner in the fourth minute from which Catts headed not far wide. A timely Ozturk tackle denied Hawkins a scoring chance and there was a bit of argy bargy, or more of a slip or two, from the resultant corner that had Pompey shouting for a penalty. We continued to do most of the defending and around the quarter-hour mark conceded a couple of free-kicks in our half that we survived. Pompey had dealt comfortably with our occasional attacks so far and we were relying too much on hopeful lobs upfield. In the twenty-fifth minute we finally put together a decent move down the right that resulted in a cross that Wyke headed well-over. Not long afterwards things looked promising when Morgan found himself in tons of space down the left but his cross sailed out for a goal-kick. We looked like we had the jitters. We then entered into our best period of attacking play that produced cries of “Haway the Lads!” in the bar and Wyke went close with our best effort yet but we were still prone to our backwards to go forwards mode. Our passing was often bad once more and as half-time approached Portsmouth must have felt happy enough. Gooch had a low shot that McGillivray covered easily and I think that was our first real effort on target. It remained goalless at the break and things weren't looking good. The bar had almost been drunk dry so I was obliged to get an Aspall's in (any port in a storm).
I was hoping we'd make an early change or two and bring on Maguire, or McGeady if he was on the bench, as we needed some penetration down the flanks and Morgan hadn't impressed so far. A couple of Pompey fans made themselves known as we kicked off again but were immediately drowned out by our lot. Wyke was injured a few minutes in but managed to recover. As the camera panned round I could see a lot more empty seats than I had earlier on and it looked like less than 30,000 were there. We won a corner eight minutes in and a chance was blocked. There was a loud cheer in the bar when Maguire came on for Morgan in the fifty-eighth and we needed something as I hadn't seen us scoring. Almost immediately we nearly scored but a great header by Honeyman from a Gooch cross was well-saved by McGillivray. We did even better a few minutes later when Maguire lammed a great volley from a headed clearance into the left of the net to make the bar go wild. We piled on the pressure and at last Pompey were looking rattled but we were the ones to worry soon enough when Ozturk was red-carded for a last-ditch tackle near the edge of our box. He did not look at all happy and I thought he was going to clock somebody. There were still over twenty minutes to go as we faced the resultant free-kick, which just to add to the fun bounced back off the woodwork. It looked like it'd deflected off Dunne's head, who'd replaced Gooch. We survived a couple of corners and started to put a few attacks together ourselves. Our fans in the pub made an impromptu chant of, “Fuck off, Pompey! Pompey, fuck off!”, which was simple but effective in silencing the small core of opposition fans present. With twelve minutes left a low, long-distance Maguire shot kissed the side-netting or even the post and I reckoned we might still nick another. Four minutes to go with no doubt several minutes of stoppage-time and I was getting jittery but the mood in the bar was positive. We won a free-kick just outside their box in the last minute but it went for a goal-kick and while that was happening five minutes of stoppage-time were announced. We did most of the pressing from there on in and it ended in a victory for us at last and the pub in very good voice.
It was great to end this hoodoo after a much-improved second-half performance but will 1-0 be enough? If we can keep eleven men on the pitch and get Maguire (and maybe McGeady or Watmore) on from the start, I think we can sneak through to Wembley.