Portsmouth 0-1 Crewe – Groundhog Day

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: A general view of Fratton Park prior to the npower Championship match between Portsmouth and West Ham United at Fratton Park on January 14, 2012 in Portsmouth, England. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

Good morning campers, the football news of today is that Andy Carroll is injured, Sunderland are in a relegation scrap, and Pompey have just gone from a great win against a top team then failed to back it up in successive home matches against bottom half teams. Some things never change, eh?

Photo: Portsmouth FC

However, I find today’s loss to Crewe very concerning.  This is the first time since Paul Cook took over at Fratton Park that I felt that there were a majority of people booing at the full-time whistle.  In the past the most vocal critics after defeats have been in the minority at Fratton Park, but today I am really not so sure.  I would consider myself to be very reasonable with how I react to performances, and have never booed the team since the days of Richie Barker.  If anything I am too lenient towards the players after poor performances and am inclined to accept lacklustre displays as long as I can see that 100% effort is being put in by the players.  I didn’t boo the team today but I honestly felt let down by the performance for the first time in a couple of years.

I’m not accusing the players of not trying as I’m sure most of them are as frustrated as any fan with the performance and the result, but nor did I see any signs of urgency when it started to look like the Blues would fall to a defeat.  Many of the players simply didn’t show up at any point today, particularly the flair players who are in the side to break down the opposition defence.  I would say that Gary Roberts, Eoin Doyle, Kal Naismith, Christian Burgess and Matt Clarke were simply not good enough today.  Naismith actually had a decent first half but was dreadful after half-time when he was moved into central midfield.  Meanwhile, David Forde, Gareth Evans, Michael Doyle, and Amine Linganzi didn’t disgrace themselves but none of them were up to their usual standards.

In my view, Kyle Bennett and Enda Stevens are the only two players who can hold their heads up high and feel that they didn’t let anyone down.  Bennett had a positive first half and looked like the only player who was prepared to run at the opposition in order to create something, and combined well with Enda Stevens down the left.  Although he, too, dropped off after half-time and was substituted, I felt there were other players who deserved to be withdrawn more and his positive running could have made a difference as the game went on.  The man of the match in my opinion was undoubtedly Enda Stevens.  The Irishman’s commitment cannot be questioned and he never stopped running up and down the left wing, as well as clearing two goalbound effort off the line.

As far as the manager is concerned, I’m not really sure what he could have done differently.  Maybe it wasn’t the best decision to substitute Kyle Bennett when he was looking dangerous, but when that many players fail to show up it almost doesn’t matter what the manager does as it is impossible to get anything from a game without at least a few competent performances.  Linganzi having to go off was a big blow as his partnership with Michael Doyle gives stability to the side and allows the other players licence to go forward, and I think Cook had the right idea by opting for Naismith to fill in there instead of Danny Rose, but in the end it didn’t pay off.  The team had struggled to pass the ball through the Crewe midfield who were sitting very deep so Cook obviously felt that a more creative, direct player was needed to move the ball forward, but Naismith found himself trying to do too much on his own and being drawn away from his position, then failing to work hard enough to get back.

If I was in the manager’s position I might have tried switching to the 3-5-2 which worked so well against Carlisle, replacing Linganzi and Roberts with Chaplin and Tom Davies, which would have allowed Naismith to have more freedom in central midfield, making his wanderings less costly.  If Linganzi had not pulled up injured I think the game would have ended in a draw rather than a defeat, but there would still have been a lack of creativity in the midfield.  Cook is an honest manager and is perfectly happy to take responsibility for the failings of his side, but today I thought he was badly let down by his players.  Crewe looked average at best, and stronger opposition probably would have won by four or five goals, whatever tactics had been used by the manager.

I am starting to worry about Eoin Doyle up front for Pompey.  At times today it looked like his confidence was shot and, it may just have been my imagination, but there seemed to be similarities in his body language with that of Michael Smith towards the end of his time with the Blues.  There were long periods of time when he seemed to be a passenger in the side and was not getting involved in the game, and he did not seem to be overenthusiastic when chances were presented to him.  He missed a golden opportunity very early in the match when Enda Stevens put in a pinpoint cross from the left which Doyle glanced over the bar from three or four yards out and I can’t remember him having another shot at goal from that point on.  I am not doubting Doyle’s quality as he has been prolific in a number of divisions, including at a higher level under Paul Cook, but it is imperative that he does not lose self-belief as it is important for every man to stand up and be counted as we near the end of the season.

I’m not sure whether it a case of mental fragility or a lack of motivation, but it has happened to often for it to be a coincidence that Pompey have more success against the better teams.  It is just typical that Pompey will win one of the biggest games of the season against Carlisle away and then take just one point from successive home games against Morecambe and Crewe.  Personally I can’t put my finger on why exactly that is, but it is an issue which needs to be sorted out very soon if Pompey are to sneak into the automatic promotion places.  They have now allowed Luton to edge in front of them by a point, having played the same number of matches so now even a win against Crawley on Tuesday night will not be enough to move Pompey into the automatic promotion places for any length of time if the Hatters also win their game in hand.
Carlisle have now lost two games on the bounce and have not been punished, so the Blues need to make sure they do not get away with a third slip up in the coming weeks.  They are still to play Luton in a match which will go to great lengths in deciding the promotion race.  It would be sickening if Carlisle missed their chance of promotion but it wasn’t Pompey who went up in their stead so no further mistakes of this scale can be made now that Pompey have to overtake both the Cumbrians and Luton.  I, for one, felt let down by the performance today as the team just looked lethargic and uninterested, but I am willing to move on and try to help the Blues across the line over the remainder of the season.  The supporters’ reaction should serve as a warning to the players that no further performances like that will be tolerated.  One positive is that it is a quick turnaround to the Crawley match on Tuesday night, so Pompey have the perfect opportunity to bounce back and start piling the pressure on Carlisle once more.