Fan’s View – 2019/20 – no.48 – Play-off Semi-Final First Leg

Article by Paul Beasley Saturday, July 4th, 2020  


It’s very much a case of as we were. There’s still nothing to separate us from Pompey. The frozen league table shows that we’re only goal difference apart. We drew 1-1 in the standard fixture back in November as we did here. I will concede though that the hosts did just have the edge in this encounter. The frame of the goal saved us once, Simon Eastwood had to produce one decent save to keep out a second half Christian Burgess header and if there were any penalty shouts, and I’m not saying there was anything genuine to be yelled for, they would have come from them not us. We never worked the relatively inexperienced Alex Bass in the Portsmouth goal.

Everyone will have their own match day routines, both home and away for those of us who travel to games. For others who follow and support without attending, for whatever reason, it will be Radio Oxford or Yellow Player that their Saturday afternoons/Tuesday evenings are centred around. For these people, what’s currently being experienced won’t be that different but for me its alien territory.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Premier League football even though I kind of despise the obscene amounts of money at that level of the game. I had however vowed that I would never pay for Sky TV or any of the other companies who much later started to muscle in on this lucrative product. The only time I’ve paid to watch football on TV was back in our Conference days when I bought a Setanta card but on reflection that must have been more for my family than me as I would have been there in person. I found that redundant card still stuck in the back of the telly a few years ago.

But needs must. Twenty five quid for a Now TV stick and £14.99 for a seven day pass which covers both legs of the semi-final – and loads of other football thrown in too. It’s almost wall to wall. I don’t know how I’m going to find time to write this to be honest. Four games today to watch.

There’s so much nervous energy to be burnt off before a game, especially in one as important as this. Normally getting to and from the match and pints beforehand eat into the hours and minutes before kick-off and serve to some extent to keep the mind occupied. Stuck at home its different altogether. There’s no outlet. Beers can be drunk, of course they can, and they were, but it’s not the same. I had to find an alternative to just pacing the house. Housework is a monotonous chore but that provided some relief and then with about an hour and a half to go I suggested to Mrs FV that we watch one of the many programmes we’d recorded but not got round to watching. She agreed and back to March we went – Russell Tovey, Imelda Staunton, Francesca Annis and co. just about did the necessary. They had 90% of my attention as we ticked off the final episode of Flesh and Blood.

Felling like this makes no sense. There’s no way the behaviour of any football fan can influence the outcome, particularly when socially distanced to this extreme. Some will be cool about it all. Que sera sera. There will though be 1000s like me. Completely on edge and all churned up inside. For every Yellow like that there will probably be two Pompey Blues. There are two Pompey fans in my walking football club. A picture of one of them in his Portsmouth shirt popped up on Facebook.

With minutes to go, we had our first FB Messenger link up with family located a few miles away. By now I wasn’t really in the mood for friendly chat. More like looking for an argument. That’s probably what lockdown does for you. That and too much Facebook time. Funnily enough there’s an article in the July edition of When Saturday Comes about such behaviour.

The start of the game provided relief of sorts, but not really. This was it. Or part of it. Eight eighths as Karl Robinson described it, bringing drinks breaks into the equation.

Marcus Browne had been fouled three or four rimes and there wasn’t even a quarter of an hour on the clock. I was getting animated, very animated. He’s being targeted. Referee needs to do something about it. Get a bloody card out. My son was of a different view. He’s just too good. We’re getting free-kicks, that’s fair. They’re not bookings. Its different players stopping him each time. That was my first disagreement.

At half-time there was another brief FB chat. “We’re second best”, was my brother’s verdict. I was having none of that. I was still riding the high of the equaliser. One all was fine by me having gone behind. Plus we’d come back into the game well and had a little spell where we were able to showcase our passing football.

When it was all over my nephew, another Yellow, thought it was a pretty rubbish game and would have been really boring for the neutral. I rose to the bait. I threw in, not if you appreciate a tactical chess match of an affair. And bear in mind this was the first game these players had played in anger in two month, they’d never played in front of an empty, save for a few cardboard cut-outs, stadium before and the prize had the potential to be huge.

There were other things I didn’t say in these discussions but for the first time back I was genuinely quite impressed with our performance. For the most part we had good shape and played in a sensible and professional manner. Nothing flashy. No dropping of the heads after going behind with just over half an hour gone. If anything we improved.

Early on there was no denying that Portsmouth had got their game together quicker than us and that they were picking up nearly all the loose balls. They had a bit too much space for my liking in the centre of midfield and at times a lot too much on their left flank. In the old days a full-back had a winger to mark. That winger stayed out wide for the most part and the full-back had a straightforward, if often difficult, job to do. Tackle the winger. Kick the winger. Stop the winger getting crosses in. Cut the ball out before it gets to the winger. That sort of thing. Nowadays it is very different. Wide men don’t hug the touch line. You don’t know where they are. In fact there’s no such thing as wide men per se. So full-backs tend to tuck in much closer to their centre-halves, presumably as per instructions, leaving plenty of room to be exploited by clever and talented footballers. That’s quite a conundrum for the full-back to solve and often that’s nearly impossible to do without help from the midfielder playing in front of him. Many consider right-back to be our weakest position and I wouldn’t have wanted to have been in Sam Long’s boots with Ronan Curtis operating nearby.

It was Curtis who rattled the post with Long standing off. Eastwood was well beaten. It was Curtis who put his team ahead. Our midfield had been played through much too easily. Long backed off and the ex-Derry City man beat Eastwood at the near post. Our keeper should almost certainly have done a bit better too but that was nothing really. A bit of rustiness is allowed. If you want proper rusty, proper jittery and one of the most nightmarish performances ever by a bloke between the sticks look no further than Fleetwood’s Alex Cairns. I do feel for him.

Tense, yes. They understand

In Browne we possibly had the classiest player on the pitch. He’d had one shot to get his eye in before he equalised and it was some goal. In a space where the two meter rule wasn’t being observed three blue shirts and three white shirts were trying to take possession for their sides. It was Cameron Brannagan who played a swift pass to Browne. Our loanee’s first touch was in our own half. When some players set off at speed you can tell they’re running very fast. Browne doesn’t fall into that category but he is quick, deceptively so. In a trice he was on the edge of the Pompey box with two defenders unable to deal with him and Bass couldn’t keep out the cut back shot. Pent up emotion launched me involuntarily from my chair and I bounced around the living room with two other bodies. It also needs mentioning that Browne did lots of good defensive work too. Stuff like that is invaluable.

We never really looked like scoring again and the second half began as the first had with Portsmouth having more of the ball but they never properly hurt us and we never looked like going behind again even when Ryan Williams and John Marquis were introduced.

Great credit has to go to the defence and the two centre-halves in particular. Rob Dickie was immense and it wouldn’t be a surprise if a big money offer were to come in for him. Alongside our captain, Elliot Moore is big and strong and the way we played, did not get exposed for pace.

Other than coming away undefeated the most pleasing thing for me was that this was achieved with many of our players having almost no noticeable impact on the game whatsoever which means we should only get better. Matty Taylor hardly got a look in but to score he needs a chance or two created for him. None were. James Henry didn’t show much and Ben Woodburn did little other than producing the odd bit of sublime skill. He didn’t look a happy bunny when removed from the action not long into the second period. He must remember he’s been out for a considerable period. Every single one of them though will have done the basics demanded of their role otherwise we would have been all over the place and would have paid for that.

Mark Sykes, Woodburn’s replacement, gave us energy and a bit of zip. I wonder if Karl will start with him for the re-match. I can see that game being little different from what we witnessed in Hampshire. Two evenly matched and well set up teams. It will probably become a bit more open as the game progresses and time to strike the winning blow gets less and less. That I think will mean the tension gets racked up further although I wonder how that can be possible.

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