Sunderland busted the hoodoo of Portsmouth with a battling 1-0 win against all the odds, as the ref decided that his tenner on Pompey to win was far more important than officiating fairly. I know, I know, refs are a bit up and down, especially in this league, but ha’way, what had he put on his cornflakes? Maguire’s beaut was the moment that counts, but Ozturk’s sending off would have been funny had it involved Eddy Izzard and Frank Skinner. It didn’t, and it stopped the most fluent passage of play we’d managed to put together. Bah, humbug.
Anyway, building up to the game… we’d taken in Spennymoor at Brackley on the way back from Southend, where the ground was St James, the turnstiles were from Roker, the home side played in red and white, and the visitors played in black and white. Difficult decisions, but not as difficult as the Spenny translation of “snakebite” to a barperson whose first language is many miles from English. Football, eh? Gets you where a draught wouldn’t.
It being a late kick-off, our bus left an hour later than normal, which gave the potential for what’s called in these parts a “bit of a sesh” – although it didn’t really turn out that way. We just drank the same amount over a slightly longer period. Outside the Avenue, three scratters (two male, one female) with a squat dog on a bit of string asked if we’d like to buy some meat. From a carrier bag they produced a frozen leg of lamb, and when we declined that on the grounds of having too few teeth, asked if we’d buy the duck. We didn’t.
From there we watched the sea, then the ponytail (manbun) express that was the Derby/Leeds game before taking up our positions, if not our seats. Those who chose not to attend missed a treat in terms of support, but that’s their loss. While Pompey had their usual boisterous following, we were top drawer with the lack of numbers more than made up for by the racket produced by those in the ground.
With a late withdrawal by McGeady always a possibility it came true, and Gooch was promoted to the side. We kicked off, towards the North stand presumably because they’d won the toss and wanted to attack “their” end in the second half.
O’Nien Flanagan Ozturk Oviedo
Gooch Honeyman Morgan
Well, what can I say about the first half that hasn’t already been mentioned in the Rothmans’ Year of Football Dullness”? There was a fair bit of tetchinesss, thanks in the main to their Thompson and Lowe deciding that, seeing as they didn’t get wrong for it last time, they should carry on diving. Which they did, to their club’s shame, and their manager will care about it not a jot. Neither side managed to impose any pattern on things, although we kept hitting long balls at Wyke, he kept winning them, and we wondered why playing one up front didn’t work. Here’s a question for you: how many times does Charlie Wyke have to be fouled to win a free kick? Answer: about eleven. Their number six was, as he was a few games, ago, all over Big Chas, but our man got nothing in the way of recompense from the ref other than a brief nod. Having said that, someone in the vicinity of Wyke when he won a header would have been quite handy – but we didn’t have anyone there. As it was, a low shot from distance by Gooch that was easily fielded by their keeper was the only shot on target of the first half. That might seem a sparse description of 45 minutes, but that what it was, and it wasn’t very pleasing on the eye although the clattering tackles showed that we were up for the fight. Several times we got Morgan away down our left, but the crosses were generally awful, and when one came in from the right thanks to O’Nien’s persistence, Wyke’s shot was under pressure and over the top. Likewise with a header that he had to stretch back to make – at least we could see where happiness might be achieved.
There was a single minute of added time before the break, and Pompey seemed slightly happier than us to take that score-line at half time.
Any changes? There were a few around me who would have binned Honeyman, who, for all his efforts, was running into blind alleys or standing behind defenders a lot bigger than he. But no, the same eleven appeared for the second period. Still the thought was that we’d put the hoodoo to bed because we’d not let them score so far, which wasn’t much of a surprise, as they’d not mustered anything in the way of trouble for McLaughlin.
If anything, we became more reliant on Wyke, who, when not being wrestled to the ground and winning headers for fun, was holding the ball up well but finding that there was no-one near him to give it to or to pick up the flick-ons. Same as the first half, really, except that we seemed to have just a little bit more urgency about our play. He took a fearful clattering a few minutes in, necessitating a lengthy period of treatment, but thankfully continued. Following a corner, Flanagan fired goalwards only for a body to get in the way, provoking the inevitable shouts for a penalty, but that was never going to be given. Ten minutes in, the much-awaited substitution came, with Maguire on for Morgan, and we thought we’d gone a head soon after. Gooch twisted and turned past his man on the left and put in a cross that Honeyman met perfectly, but the keeper repeated his antics of a couple of weeks back to claw it away. Damn, damn, damn – biting the legs off yellow jelly babes in voodoo style obviously wasn’t working. We were still talking about that a few minutes later when we got the ball into their box again, it was headed out to the edge of the box, and Maguire seized the moment by controlling the ball and volleying it into the net. Boom! Gerrin- a great goal to suit a big occasion.
That lifted the atmosphere a notch from where it had been, which was pretty high anyway, with the noise that greeted the teams at half seven having been maintained throughout. It obviously lifted spirits on the field, and we began to play with more fluency, but that was ruined a few minutes later by possibly the worst refereeing decision of a season littered with rotten refereeing decisions. When Pompey broke, they played the ball out towards their left, and as their man ran towards the ball, and towards the corner of the box rather than the goal , Ozturk slid in, won the ball, and was sent off. Had their man got the ball, there were two defenders going back into the box who would have denied a goal-scoring opportunity. The red card was straight out, but the way the ball changed direction showed that our man had won it, subsequent photos and videos have shown that our man won it, their man was making for a dive, and the game could have changed in Pompey’s favour because of it. The free-kick smacked off the bar and was cleared, the fans howled their disapproval, and for a brief moment you wondered if someone in a red and white shirt was going to give someone in a blue shirt a really big kick up the arse in revenge.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen, we regained our composure, and brought on Dunne for Gooch to fill the gap at the back. Oviedo left two or three Pompey players in his wake as he steamed towards the box, only to be brought down – and ignored by the ref. What planet is this feller on? With twelve minutes to go, Maguire drifted forward and let fly with a shot that looked nowt special – but beat the keeper all ends up and hit the foot of the post. Having failed several times to shut up shop with eleven men, we managed it with ten, despite Honeyman getting a yellow for chasing their man to halfway and bringing him down. Dunne and Flanagan took everything in the air, and the one goalmouth scramble that Pompey managed to instigate ended with McLaughlin catching the ball. Catts organised and cajoled more effort from the Lads as five added minutes were announced, the noise level clicked up a notch, and we sang the Lads over the line.
I know it’s only half-time, but we’ve beaten Portsmouth and their nasty tactics, and we go to Fratton Park on Thursday with our heads held high. Hopefully there will be time for Ozturk’s red to be rescinded and the ref made to stand on the naughty step in Jacky White’s Market for a week. Could it be that League One have enjoyed our presence, and crowds, so much that they’d move heaven and earth to keep us there for next season? Probably a stupid notion, but there have been several occasions this season when that seems very much the case.
Man of the Match? Catts was a dominant force all evening, O’Nien got forward with his usual energy, and Maguire was superb when he came on, providing the spark that we know he can on big occasions. Both centre-backs did their defensive bits well, but for me it was Big Chas, who took a real battering with no sympathy from the officials and simply got up and got on with things.
Thursday? Bring it on.