In the pub earlier I’d managed to wish Big John, the (in)famous Pompey fan, all best for the rest of the season, saying how glad we were that the club had come through the financial nightmare. A fine evening with the sun setting over the North Stand. Elphick replaced Ward; Harte for Daniels, Fraser for Pugh, McDermott for Coulibaly, Surman for Grabban, Hughes for MacDonald, O’Kane for Arter. Boscombe k.o. to the South Stand; what a difference that makes to the ground dynamics, even though this night it was empty. Fraser started on the left, down in front of us East-Standers, close to the away contingent.
Surman & O’Kane showed good vision early on, A good block led to a Pompey corner, then McDermott was well into the away area but the ball was nicked away. Was the home formation 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-3-2 or what? Let’s just say “fluid”. Another away corner, but no problems. Fraser was busy but raw, not always using the ball effectively; McDermott was more effective in this way. Hughes was superb, steady and organising; Surman showed touches of class. Harte was tidy, using his experience, but no way he’d overlap.
Agyemang was just wide, being the most effective Pompey forward so far. A superb pass from O’Kane to Francis led to a scrambled corner; again, Francis was superb up the wing. Fraser’s cross from the left was headed over by Thomas – energetic but clumsy. Pompey were poor with long balls – over-hit and/or mis-directed; they looked better playing through the middle – but tended to be absorbed by the massed home ranks in midfield, or by the steady-as-usual defence. Elphick was soon organising his defence in full voice. Fraser was clobbered, but over a minute later (his pass started a good move) a Pompey player put it over the touch-line so the kid could receive treatment. Added to his experiences on Saturday, there may be a few chips of Aberdeen granite in the pitch now…
Pompey had 2 corners in quick succession, the second muffed. Surman & McDermott engaged in a series of 1-2s, so nearly putting the ball in the net. Elphick made a rare defensive error but corrected it by conceding a corner; all these away corners showed that Pompey had come to make a real game of it. The pinball in the away area led to a home corner. Cook was steady as usual, but Thomas needed more support – and was offside when put through by Hughes. Fraser & McDermott swapped sides on 37, the former immediately being more comfortable. Francis put him in; a great cut-back to Thomas who suddenly had 2 left feet and the ball went backwards but Surman hit the loose ball with the effort tipped over. Fraser then had a shot tipped round the far post, followed by more pinball. HT: 0-0.
The second half was much the same as the first, until Francis did well to concede a corner to Allsop’s right. Francis took up position beyond the far post, won the cross from a knot of away players, and streaked up the left wing to half-way. Time for a cuppa & natter with the management, then McDermott out-muscled Agyemang. This particular point was so heartening; after all McDermott’s off-pitch problems he seems to have really knuckled down. Surman picked up the ball and sent a diagonal to Fraser, whose shot was blocked. The ball ran loose to O’Kane who lashed it into the net amidst a defence still scrambling back from the corner. 1-0, 54; not before time!
Francis sent it up to Fraser, who waited then passed inside to Surman who carefully placed his pass-shot wide of the far post. Fraser then won himself a free (he’s learning!), & gave it to Surman whose left-footer was just wide. McDermott seemed more central with O’Kane more often wide left. Daniels (going left-wing) replaced Thomas on 73, so Howe was going all Barcelona, 4-6-0. Another Surman effort was deflected for a corner. Then he missed a tackle near the centre circle, leading to Cook pulling down the breaking midfielder and receiving a yellow. Allsop caught the free comfortably, and was never really troubled.
Boscombe were putting on an exhibition, with a left-wing move and O’Kane twisting to put it just wide. Arter came on for Surman on 83, retaining the shape. Pompey managed to put a player in on Allsop who saved well. MacDonald replaced Fraser on 88 to tighten midfield, especially with Hughes becoming less tidy. A superb move put Arter in on the keeper; an excellent block meant a corner. The last action of the game saw McDermott tackle for a throw to Pompey; once taken, the ref. blew for full-time. F-T: 1-0.
So a second-round place at last, and Howe having checked out all sorts of possibilities with both players and formations. The British Lions RU squad uses the term “dirt-trackers” for those who play the mid-week games; perhaps Howe is considering one set of players for league games, another for the cups… Fair play to Pompey who tried to play football at all times but were found lacking too often. The home 18 this night would probably win Div.4 at a canter (and make a decent stab at Div.3); perhaps the away squad might do as well once better-knitted. But Watford away on Sat. is a different proposition altogether…
One of the unused subs was the youngster Sam Matthews; might’ve been nice to have him give a 3-minute cameo in added time but he’s only 16. Perhaps next year. And when will Howe have enough faith in Stockley to let him play – in this game, alongside Thomas, perhaps, for 15-20 minutes.
So far, there don’t appear to be executive box or text nominations. Francis was excellent up & down, O’Kane played various roles well, Fraser & McDermott both put in a good shift, but for something of a master-class in that position this goes to Hughes.
AFCB: Allsop, Francis, Cook, Elphick, Harte, Fraser, O'Kane, Hughes, McDermott, Surman, Thomas
Subs: Flahavan, Addison, Matthews, Stockley, Daniels (for Thomas, 73 mins), Arter (for Surman, 83 mins), MacDonald (for Fraser, 88 mins)
Peter Wicks, Bulford