Portsmouth vs Stevenage – Back to the Drawing Board

Written by Mark Docherty

Once again Pompey have taken one step forwards, then two steps back.  A brilliant win at Luton in midweek got Pompey fans’ juices flowing: “it’s finally our year!” they declared, taking over social media with posts about how the league is there for the taking.  Four days on, however, there is a very different mood among Pompey supporters after a fairly dire 2-1 defeat to Stevenage.

The “Cook Out” cronies have come out of hiding since the defeat and are now happily persuading everyone who will listen to them that they saw this coming months ago and that if Pompey want to have any chance of escaping League Two they must change their manager imminently.  After all, how can any team even get close to being successful without playing two up front?

In my opinion, some Pompey fans need to take a good look at themselves before they return to Fratton Park.  Paul Cook regularly talks about managing disappointment and, although he is talking about his players when he says it, I think it applies heavily to the supporters as well.  When the team go a goal down, it hardly helps if they see thousands of people streaming out the doors, or having abuse shouted down at them from all around.  It’s small wonder that Pompey have a better record on the road than at Fratton Park.

Of course, it is a small minority I am talking about; most Pompey fans remain true to their team and support them for the full 90 minutes every week, but the vocal minority have an unfortunate talent for being noticed.  Several players have alluded to being booed against Mansfield, showing that the fans do certainly have an impact on the players.  For me, it is imperative that fans manage their disappointment in a way that is not so outwardly apparent and doesn’t put any unnecessary pressure on the players if Pompey are to achieve any level of consistency.

Having said that, not all of the blame for Pompey’s performance can be laid on the fans.  The players certainly need to take some responsibility, and nobody more so than Michael Doyle and Christian Burgess.  As far as their on field performances were concerned, I felt they were two of Pompey’s best players in an encouraging first half.  However, an ‘incident’ at half-time between the two players led to them both being substituted.


I obviously don’t know what happened between the two players, but if it was anything remotely serious then they have let the fans and their teammates down.  I honestly think that, with the score at 0-0 and Pompey looking good, the hosts would have gone on to win the match if it wasn’t for the half-time altercation.  There seemed to be a difference in mentality after half-time and it is very likely that this was caused by the bust up.  Not only that, but it meant Paul Cook only had one change for the whole second half which limited what he could change tactically.  For grown men to be in the position of having to be hauled off the pitch after scraps with their teammates is frankly laughable and cannot be repeated if Pompey are to get anywhere near promotion.

There is a clear common theme of this article: unity. One thing that was clear last season when Northampton went on their brilliant run on their way to the league title was that they were united.  At one stage the staff were not even being paid due to the club’s financial crisis, but everyone pulled in the same direction and allowed them to win promotion into League One.  That is what Pompey need to do if they are to enjoy similar success.  The quality is already there so as long as the players can come together and play as a team and the fans can get off the team’s back and act as a twelfth man, it is only a matter of time before promotion is won.  Mentality is the only thing holding the Blues back from getting the consistency needed to be successful, and that relies on everyone at the club.

Just so this article isn’t wholly depressing, I will end on a positive note.  Michael Smith is epitomising everything Portsmouth has historically been about and exactly what is needed to restore their former glory.  It is perfectly evident from his celebrations when he scores how much he cares about the game.  Being a Newcastle fan, he is clearly no stranger to big, passionate crowds and I get the feeling that he would be lining the terraces every Saturday if he was not out there on the pitch.

Smith is a willing runner who always gives his all and, although he may not be the most naturally gifted player, he is a very useful squad member with his work ethic and unselfish attitude.  When he goes through rocky spells he often receives some stick from supporters, but it’s really good to see him putting in some quality performances to complement his work rate. He was man of the match by a country mile and took his goal really well.  If football meant as much to every player as it does to Smith the game would be played at a much higher tempo and would have a far better reputation.  Much like Pompey, Smith is mediocre but often performs above expectations due to his immense passion and hard work.

Pompey now have a two week break before their next match after being knocked out of the FA Cup which gives them a good chance to get everything back in order.  When they travel to Grimsby they will have to put in a much improved performance to convince everyone that they have the unity I talked about earlier in the article. Furthermore, they badly need a win to close the gap on the automatic promotion places, as they now sit five points off Doncaster, with Rovers having a game in hand.  The Blues now need to go back to the drawing board and shake off their nasty habit of inconsistency or they will be destined to another year in the Football League’s basement tier.

Portsmouth fans, what needs to change? Do you think you will get promoted? Let us know in the comments below!

featured image by James Evans