The end of a busy week saw the Lads take on our new Big Rivals, and we suffered the ignominiousness of coming up against a side who pushed our defence back and basically bullied us for the first half. We didn’t really get our passing game going until the second half, when our bright start should really have brought some reward. When it didn’t, Pompey got themselves back into things and were in the end deserved winners. One of the stand-out things was the lack of zip up front – we ended the game with Wyke, Graham, and Grigg on the field, but none of them would win a sprint over any distance – and that’s probably where we’ll be lacking all season, as we simply don’t have that sort of player in our squad.
I wouldn’t say the current socio-economic situation is getting to me, but the wind chimes next to my back door have been saying “H’way, Sunderland, H’way, Sunderland” for weeks now. It’s no replacement for the (usually inane) noise experienced when actually attending a match, but it’s a bit of comfort/light relief. Had there been a pre-match pint to mull things over with, we’d have been wondering if Willis and/or Flanagan would get straight back into the side, perhaps pushing O’Nien into the role of striker, where he’d undoubtedly score a hat-trick. We’d have been having a sweep on how many more minutes (lots, we’d hope) the Lads could go without conceding a goal, to cement our position as the meanest defence in the whole wide world. Not many, as it turned out.
But there was no pre-match in the established sense, just the new normal of either staying at home for a domestic build-up, or nipping out for a cheeky couple in an attempt to replicate the old normal. I know Pompey fans are about as welcome as a belch in a facemask, thanks to the antics of some of their less mentally stable members, but I wish they were up there in the North Stand for me to hurl abuse at.
As it was, Willis was back, nudging McLaughlin onto the bench – a bit harsh on Conor, but it does show the strength of our squad – as we took up our usual formation to the sound of that nutter from Pompey with the bell, who has apparently travelled all the way from the south coast to ding his dong in the car park for the duration.
Willis Wright O’Nien
Gooch Power Scowen Leadbitter Hume
With the picture on the stream looking a bit like something from an eye test (either that or my eyes have gone for one) Pompey took to the field in their unnecessary away kit of white with blue socks, to the backdrop of the Roker End bedecked with flags – thanks for that, SAFC. We faced the Roker End (south, which is how it should be) as Pompey kicked off.
Thanks to my TV picking up a 3D signal, the first few minutes were a bit of a headache (which explained the dodgy picture), until Leadbitter broke up a Pompey break - but we gave it straight back to the visitors, who looked much more like a football team than Crewe had. It was fairly obvious early on that we’d not be able to rob the ball off the opposition, but Willis and Gooch combined down the right to get a decent ball into the box – only for Scowen to have it taken off his toes. Away went Pompey, up to the North End in a sweeping move, for Harness to sidefoot home after only six minutes. Bad start, Lads, and it serves us right for even mentioning how long it had been since we conceded.
A free for a foul on Maguire out on the left at the corner of the box saw Scowen try one to the far top corner, but it was well off target. Poor effort, Josh, but a minute later Denver got to the line when running onto a long ball from Wright, and cut it back to Wyke, who popped it away nicely at the near post to level things up after ten minutes. Well done Chas, that one’s definitely yours .
A free, given for Power getting in the way of a jump, produced a header that Burge did well to palm away for a corner, which we defended well. Gooch twazzled well to get away down the right, but Scowen’s little pass to Wyke was a couple of yards off target. Another free kick in shooting range was conceded on the quarter hour, but the ref’s eagerness to blow in that area has to be questioned. This one was central, and Jacobs hit it over the wall for Burge to tip over the bar. The corner went beyond the back post, and the ref redeemed himself by awarding a free when it came back in – presumably for a slight bump on Burge, but in all honesty I could see nothing untoward. Burge had cleared it anyway, so nothing to worry about. As Wyke chased Hume’s ball down the line after the free kick, Pompey’s Williams did a naughty one and trod on young Denver, earning himself a yellow.
It was about twenty minutes before we could establish our usual “high press” (which is what Simon Cowell does to his trousers) and win a free on the left, which their keeper took comfortably when Scowen hoyed it in. We started to play it around more at the back as we looked for the options to break, showing good patience. With 24 gone, Leadbitter played an awful pass across the middle that was easily intercepted thirty yards out, and Pompey did the simple thing of playing it into the right hand side of the box, from where it was slotted home. Bad, bad pass, Grant, just as we were starting to settle into our stride, and that understandably knocked us off-piste.
Maguire was only a yard away from getting to a through ball before their keeper as the half hour passed, but it was mostly Pompey possession at this stage. Another corner to the visitors caused all sort of bother before they hoyed it back in and headed it over the bar – Lads, take a breather and get yourself sorted while their lad is down getting his head injury seen to. O’Nien did well to dive in and head away for a corner on our left, which Pompey put to the back post again – and thankfully knocked wide. Maguire was fouled as we played it to the halfway line, and Grant (probably sensibly) left it for Willis to take. Power was next to be caught, out on the left on halfway, O’Nien, who’d come of worse in a block tackle a minute earlier, played it up into the box, but when it fell to Maguire on our left, his shot was blazed over from a narrow angle. Some nice passing saw Willis find space to play it down the right, but Gooch’s ball wasn’t close enough to Wyke and the move broke down – which sort of summed up the game up to that time. Pompey were doing us at our own game by closing us down and denying us space.
Two minutes of added time were announced, and I expect that Parky was itching to get the Lads sat down for a bit of a tactical talking to as Hume drove to the line again and fired in a low cross that looped off O’Nien’s boot and into the arms of the keeper at the back post. Had it been a Sunday morning, Wyke could have clattered the keeper and ball into the net, but it’s a Saturday afternoon and that sort of thing is frowned upon these days. Still worth a try, though, Chas.
A goal down at the break after a disappointing half in which we never really got going for any length of time and which Portsmouth had just about dominated – a bit of a shock to our collective system after the recent ineptitude of Swindon and Crewe. Still, there was a whole half to rectify the situation – new faces, new tactics, or simply get back to playing the way we have been. Ha’way Parky, let’s have the Lads stringing a few passes together.
O’Nien was back out for the second period, allaying fears that he’d knacked summat, which allowed us to keep our shape, and Maguire set things away by playing back to Willis. His pass found Hume and the cross was almost perfect for Maguire, but the control didn’t match the delivery and the visitors cleared – that could well have been a game-changing early equaliser. Instructions had obviously been to get it forward and wide, as Gooch was next in, firing a left-footer against a defender then forcing a save. He then put in a cross which went for a corner on our left as we continued our lively start to the half and play eventually ended a corner on the other side. Another burst by Gooch ended with a cross into the box which hit a Sunderland hand, and the free allowed Pompey to cross the halfway line for the first time, four minutes in. Another Hume cross was a foot too far forward for Wyke, resulting in the header going wide of the back post as we continued to press, creating more bother to the visiting defence than we’d done in the entire first half.
Possibly (says the cynic in me, but probably accurately) another Portsmouth player had a sit down with an alleged injury, but at least this time Jacobs had the good grace to leave field - being replaced by Curtis. Probably a bonus, as he’d been their dead-ball man so far. Our dead-ball man, Scowen, got the chance to show what he’s about when Wyke was bundled over out on the right, but the delivery was just behind Chas, meaning that he could only head over the bar. Another Gooch cross was headed away for a corner, which was a bit short but resulted in another corner which almost went straight in, and the clearance ended with a free to us thirty yards out. Scowen curled it in, but the keeper came out well, flattening Wright in the process – nowt wrong there, unfortunately. Keepers can do that sort of thing, just ask Pickford.
Hume put in a good tackle to break up an attack, but Maguire’s pass caught Denver’s heel and the break ended with a throw to Pompey. After another couple of minutes of possession, we needed O’Nien to chase back well on our left and tackle to prevent danger as we entered the last 25 minutes. Hume got in the way of the ensuing pass, at the expense of a corner on our left – which Harness put so long that it went for a throw on the far side. After Gooch helped build an attack, in which we couldn’t quite find a shot, O’Nien was rightly booked when halting a Pompey break with a clumsy pull thirty yards out on 70 minutes. With Grigg on for Scowen and Maguire dropping into midfield, the shot hit the top of the wall and came away, with Burge collecting the punt back in. Nice play from the clearance saw Hume’s cross end up with Gooch, who fired wide and probably high as well.
Hume swapped passed with Wyke, breaking into the box but seeing his shot blocked with Pompey clearing and Burge needed to be brave and sharp to get down as the ball bounced around in our box. Power’s cross was perfect from the right, and Grigg headed just wide under pressure. Nearly, Lads, and a series of failed tackles allowed the visitors to move down their left then switch play, with the resultant cross being headed in – from an offside position, thankfully. Up the field we went, with Gooch being blocked and a yellow shown to his assailant. Maguire curled in the free to the back post, but too far for anybody in a Sunderland shirt. With ten to go, Leadbitter made way for Graham as we hoyed another body up top, but the next action was O’Nien chasing back into our box and getting a second yellow for tangling legs with their forward who’d got goal-side of him– penalty, no question, and our third red card of the season. Marquis’s spot-kick went to Burge’s right as he dived to his left, and we were 3-1 down and out of the game with five to go.
Burge was down well to tip Harness’s shot from distance away for a corner on our right and Pompey brought on Nicolaisen for their main man before it was taken. Four minutes of added time were announced, but to be honest we’d have needed a lot more than that to get anything from the game. We nearly did get something when Gooch’s cross fell to Wyke at the back post, but it was poked off his toes for a corner on our left. Once that was cleared, the ref blew and that was it. A deeply disappointing afternoon, making me feel a bit daft for sitting in front of the telly in my Sunderland shirt and matchday socks.
Man of the Match? Certainly not Leadbitter, who ruined another otherwise good display with that awful pass that gave away Pompey’s second goal. I think I’ll give it to Hume, as he looked the most likely to create something with his running and crossing, although Gooch wasn’t far behind with a similar contribution.