POMPEY 1 AFC WIMBLEDON 0: Small steps are better than no steps
By Steve Bone at Fratton Park
Saturday 15 Feb 2014 18:54:00
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Ten minutes from the end, the tannoy announcer's voice boomed out from the speakers. He asked all senior supervisors to contact control on the emergency phones. It sounded serious. Presumably it was so they could be reminded about how to control the home fans in the event of a win.

 

 

Boxing Day was the last time Pompey won at home - before that it was November 2. And that perhaps explains the intense atmopshere in the final few minutes, and the roar when the final whistle was blown, as the Blues players and fans saw out - nervously at times - a win that so badly needed.

This wasn't one of the season's League Two classics. It probably wouldn't even get in a DVD of Pompey's best games this season. But few cared about the quality as they walked home and heard their team had risen to 17th in League Two, a full seven points clear of the bottom two.

That's 85th in the league - ten years to the day after Matt Taylor was earning an FA Cup replay with Liverpool with a late equaliser for Premier League Pompey at Anfield. Quite a comedown, yet in many ways this 1-0 win felt as good when it was finally secured as a victory by the same scoreline in the Cup replay that followed that 1-1 draw at Liverpool in 2004. Well it did to me.

I've said all through this bad run that Pompey wouldn't go down. I've never doubted that; never wavered from that point of view. Even after the woeful home loss to Torquay - surely the lowest point so far, and hopefully not one that will be beaten in that respect - I still felt we'd be ok. But there's nothing like a win to underline your belief in such things.

Of course, one win doesn't change everything. It doesn't change the fact Pompey should be higher up the table than they are with the group of players they have. It doesn't suddenly mean we're world beaters who can start dreaming of the play-offs. And it will mean even less if Pompey don't follow it up with decent performances and a return of four points (at least) in games at Scunthorpe and at home to Accrington in the next ten days.

But winning is what it's all about and winning is what Pompey have done here. This victory kept up Pompey's record of winning every month. They're nothing if not consistent. And, if only for the way they put bodies on the line, literally and metaphorically, towards the end of the match, they deserved it.

Much of the first half was too similar for many people's liking to other recent home games, when Pompey have failed to dominate average and below-average visiting teams. They had plenty of the ball but looked far from fluent, and didn't give Ryan Taylor and Jake Jervis any sort of service up front.

As the first half wore on, Wimbledon - who'd looked poor in attack, humping aimless balls forward that Trevor Carson and the defence gobbled up with ease - began to gain confidence from Pompey's failure to hurt them. The least the home fans wanted was a shot at goal and Ricky Holmes roused everyone from their slumber with a swerving effort that the keeper couldn't hold.

You hoped a period of all-out attack might follow but it didn't, and as torrential rain arrived at half-time, it was tempting to hope it would turn into a Wycombe-like downpour and send us all home prematurely.

As it turned out, the rain petered out and we didn't have to wait for long in the second half for an upturn in fortunes - a goal, and a rare example of Pompey taking the lead in a home game, something the Fratton faithful have been able to savour all to infrequently this season.

Pompey had started the half fairly brightly but Taylor's towering header back past the keeper from Daniel Alfei's cross, after Nicky Shorey had set up the full-back for the ball into the box, was exactly what was needed to give the place, and the team, a lift.

Could they go on to wrap up the points early and perhaps boost the goal difference? Well, no, not this time - though another thing I remain convinced we'll see sooner rather than later is that we will give someone a 3-0 or 4-0 beating.

It didn't happen here and that meant another nervous end to the afternoon for Pompey's followers. Late goals conceded have become a symbol of our struggles this season, most recently at Exeter last week when the two points were snatched away in the fourth and last minute of injury time.

That must have been in the players' minds as they put absolutely everything into defending the slender lead. Wimbledon were a big, strong and fairly physical team but Sonny Bradley and Ben Chorley stood up to everything thrown at them. The whole defence performed resolutely, the rest of the team did their bit tracking back - and Carson, who otherwise had a pretty quiet afternoon, made what must go down as one of the saves of the season from Alan Bennett's header.

The Dons went close twice more after that - once when Bennett's hooked shot skimmed the top of the net, causing brief joy among the good-sized Dons support at the other end of the ground, and then when it seemed they must equalise as the ball pinged around the six-yard box after a corner before being hacked off the line.

Bradley and Chorley would be joint men of the match for me but Jed Wallace deserves an honourable mention too. The fact he has been struggling for form of late has not seen him go hiding, and no-one covers more ground than the youngster in trying to make things happen for Pompey (and, on this occasion making sure things didn't happen for the opposition). You get the feeling Wallace needs a goal to get his confidence back, but you can't fault his attitude on showings like this.

Wallace was one of three players subbed in the second half - Taylor had gone off with a groin problem soon after his goal and Holmes, after another busy display, was sacrificed late on. The men who came on - Patrick Agyemang, Andy Barcham and Wes Fogden - all played their part in helping Pompey keep the ball and pushing Wimbledon back as the Blues closed in on the points.

Pompey's recent results add up to decent form - since the New Year's Day late-goal loss at Southend, it's been draw, draw, draw, win, defeat, draw, win. In other words, ten points from seven games, with only one defeat. Not relegation form, by a long stretch. I realise many will say should have had even more than ten points from those seven games, but let's take slow progress over no progress at all.

For if you can't look on the bright side after a win, what's the point of being a fan?

Pompey: Carson; Alfei, Chorley, Bradley, Painter; Wallace (Barcham 86_, Racon, Shorey, Holmes (Fogden 74); Jervis, Taylor (Agyemang 59). Subs not used: Smith, N’Gala, Padovani, Harris.

 

Referee: Stuart Attwell

Attendance: 15,742 (1,999 away fans)

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