In the Pompey dugout, the former Lincoln City management team. In the Lincoln dugout, the former Pompey boss. It was a derby of sorts, if only in familiarity and not the 420 miles round trip between the two places.
In the end, Danny Cowley got a double over his former employers, but unlike the previous encounter (where they also scored three), this one wasn’t defined by how bad we were. On the contrary, I felt the Imps played very well, but once again the same old problems reared their head.
I confess, I’m not going to churn out the usual 2000 words on yesterday (turns out, an hour later, I have), because it is the same old, same old. It’s almost as if I have a template for the season and I just have to select one from the following heading – “never in the game, poor”, “if only xxx had been fit”, “played well but didn’t get what we deserve”, “a win”. The last one hasn’t been used much, and I’ll just reach for the third one, deleted the information under some familiar headings and try to customise it for yesterday.
Yep, once again the team came out and it was all about who wasn’t playing, not who was. No Joe Walsh on the bench; he’s out for the season (okay, three games, but out for the season seems to be the more dramatic sentence). No Chris Maguire either, although there wasn’t a whole lot of anger at that one and he won’t play again this campaign either. Liam Bridcutt we know won’t play again, nor Cohen Bramall, nor TJ Eyoma. That meant Jamie Robson, Regan Poole, Adam Jackson and Brooke Norton-Cuffy across the back, which was the 23rd of our 24 different defensive combinations this season, and only the second time they’ve played together. So, as with multiple games this season, it was all about who didn’t play, and not quite as much about who did.
First Half – Strong Performance
Here’s our first deviation from the usual template; I felt we had a decent first half and a half-decent second period. Lincoln City normally turns up for 45 minutes, maybe an hour, but then roll over, and I felt we didn’t do that yesterday. In fact, for the first 45 minutes, I felt we matched Portsmouth. It is worth remembering they played on Tuesday night, meaning they had less than 72 hours to turn the squad around, and they lost Joe Morrell early doors, a key player for them and someone we know well. However, Ryan Tunnicliffe who came on is no mug, and there’s certainly some quality in the Pompey side. As usual, we turned up to play a decent team in an evenly-matched first half.
The stats back up my belief as well; City had 14 shots on goal in the first half, three on target, compared to 7/1 for Pompey. Nobody had anything really clear cut; our xG was 0.86 and theirs 0.36, which suggested a tight first half with few really good chances. Our best probably fell to Lewis Fiorini in the first minutes; BNC drove down the flank, fed Cullen whose pull back landed at Fiorini’s feet. If he gets that chance 25 minutes in, it’s probably a goal. Knowing Fiorini, who was excellent again yesterday, if he gets it 25-yards out, not 12, it’s probably a goal as well!
I’m going to hold my hands up and say with three games left, I’ve been largely disappointed with Liam Cullen’s impact on the squad, despite a half-decent game yesterday. He tries, yes, but he feels a bit ‘Callum Morton’ for me; not suited to our style. It’s harsh on the lad as he has been in and out of the side, but he just doesn’t have the physical threat that some of our other forwards carry and, if given a choice, I’d prefer to see our own strikers now being given a run out.
On 36 minutes one of our own strikers, Anthony Scully, had another half-chance. BNC (again) the provider, driving down the flank and floating a cross which Scully headed at goal, only for a defender to clear before the keeper made an easy catch. They were our best two chances, but it would be fair to say that in the first half alone, despite the score being 0-0, we edged the game. It wouldn’t have been unfair for us to go in 1-0 up, and if a judge had to award it on points, Lincoln would have it. Remember, this is away at Fratton Park, a team more suited to the top two divisions, and despite the gloom amongst some fans at present, I find that a positive. 14,000 home fans, a loud atmosphere with them still harbouring a (very unlikely) play-ambition, and we were marginally the better side, having created more chances.
This is where I struggle with some of the criticism the playing squad gets. If we don’t create chances, it’s not good enough. If we do create chances, it’s still not good enough. If we score, but we’re being outplayed, it’s not usually good enough. We’ve gone to a team with a better budget, arguably a better squad, and for 45 minutes, we’ve been the better team. I know football is all about results, all about goals, but can even the most miserable of the Appleton Out brigade not see the positives in that?