THE talk and spirit at Portsmouth is all about fighting to save their Football League future.
Amid an uneasy season, former Pools striker Ritchie Barker was recently replaced by the club’s academy manager Andy Awford.
A win at Newport lifted their hopes of remaining out of the bottom two. Victory over Hartlepool on Saturday put a bit of distance between themselves and relegation.
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Still for Awford, the battle has not been won by any stretch of the imagination.
“We are still five points in front of the bottom two, we keep going. Results last week went for us, this week not so, but if we play at that intensity we can reach higher,’’ he said.
Hartlepool United have lost four games in a row. They are only one point ahead of Pompey, six points in front of second bottom Northampton Town.
Pompey’s message is clear; it’s all about fighting relegation.
Pools isn’t and really shouldn’t be, but there’s a unity and fight about Pompey that is sadly lacking at Pools.
Colin Cooper said before this game he wanted his side to take at least ten points from the last available 18. Now there’s just 15 points on offer.
Torquay are as good as down, there’s no doubt on that front. The second place is still open. No one has said Pools are in any danger, and it would take some calamitous sequence of stupid results for it to happen.
But the sooner they get three more points the better, with three home games and two away to come.
Pools’ performances and results on the road of late have been very poor. They won at Dagenham on February 8 and since have lost at Northampton, Wycombe, Oxford and now Portsmouth, with a drab draw at Accrington.
Three of those defeats have been against sides below them, sides who simply wanted victory more. They should not have lost at Oxford, but threw it away late on.
It’s been a long time since Pools imposed themselves on an away game.
Cooper admitted: “We haven’t been great away from home lately. We have five games and we need points. Do we need one win? We might not need any. But leaving this ground after this result, I look at the first half performance.
“We have some talented young players who can handle a ball and pass a ball going forward and young players have to turn into young men.
“There’s no hiding place, that’s the harsh reality. I’ve played here (at Fratton Park) in the Premier League and know what it’s like. They are scrapping for their lives and are only a point behind us.
“That’s how this league is and you have to come and roll your sleeves up, and we didn’t do it enough.’’ Cooper had warned his players of what to expect; a big and passionate crowd and a fired up home side.
They got everything and more.
Pools scored against Bristol Rovers last month after 58 seconds. This time they were behind 25 seconds further into the game.
A deep free kick wasn’t dealt with, keeper Andy Rafferty saved the header at goal, but right-back Adam Webster – with his first kick for the club this season after a loan at Aldershot – knocked in from two yards.
If that was bad enough, Christian Burgess then instantly conceded a penalty.
Rafferty was in goal because Scott Flinders had been suffering from a migrane.
The start was enough to give everyone connected with Pools a severe headache.
Ricky Holmes’ penalty was well-struck and Rafferty did exceptionally well to get down low to his right to keep it out and keep Pools in the game with all of three minutes and 23 seconds gone.
Pompey were full of energy and endeavour, closing Pools down in numbers and stopping them playing. Could they keep it going? Not quite, but Pools didn’t have enough to test them at the other end.
Reverting to a 4-4-1-1 set-up after using a tight midfield diamond shape of late, Pools failed to offer enough.
A minute into the second half and Luke James got in behind defender Bondz N’Gala and Trevor Carson, the ex- Sunderland keeper, saved.
Until injury time when Carson collected a wayward N’Gala header he wasn’t troubled.
“Three of the last four games have been defeats by one goal, that can’t happen – those defeats have to be turned into non-defeats or wins,’’ said Cooper.
ASSURED: Pools keeper Andy Rafferty saves from Bondz N’Gala
“To lose three from four by one goal, either playing well or badly, is something you can’t have if you want any level of success.’’ He added: “I’d love to say we were close to getting something, but I can’t. We put a couple of balls across their box but that was it. I wasn’t convinced we would get a goal.
“We had a couple of bits of play getting in on the flanks, but I can’t think of anything where we cut Portsmouth open to create something.
“It didn’t fall for us in the box and we didn’t put any pressure on in the box like they did.
“Sometimes we have played really good football and created chances, but not this time.’’