Report by Ian Grant
I guess the honeymoon's over, then. Portsmouth are a grim, tedious side and yet we were simple not good enough to overcome them. In a scrappy game that was crying out for someone to put their foot on the ball and think about things, we should no signs of class or composure. Ramage was elsewhere.
The first half was bearable, at least. Portsmouth came looking for the win, giving that bloody offside trap a brief rest, and it made for an open, if clumsy, game. The inclusion of Kerry Dixon in the starting line-up has given us a little more punch up front, from which Tommy Mooney has profited, but we're just not putting the passes together enough. Time and again, Dixon flicked on long balls, only to find that no-one had the awareness to get on the end. We're a combative side, little else.
The problems are typified by Andy Hessenthaler. His work-rate remains phenomenal but all sense of direction appears to have gone from his play. If I see another diagonal run to the touchline, followed by a backpass to a player in the position he's just run from, I'll do something I might regret. While we're slagging off Hessy (and I'm a great admirer of his), why are we choosing to shoot the wrong way?
The only action in the first half hour came off the pitch, an incident in the Rookery/Rous corner that seemed to start with Pompey fans attempting to cross into the Watford stand. Too much to resist for some of the more moronic fans from both sides but the police appeared to seperate them quickly. The referee held up play while order was restored - little did we know that he'd stop play every time one of the fans wanted to go to the toilet.
Portsmouth scored, anyway. Quite why a cross-field ball to Andy Awford, the Pompey left back, should have caused such panic is unclear but the rest was awful - a series of missed tackles before Awford slotted the ball past Miller. We have a way of making opposition attacks look devastatingly incisive. At least the original pass was good - a rare moment of genuine vision.
Our attempts to equalise went nowhere for fifteen minutes before Bazeley hooked in a cross which bounced around and hit a defender's hand. Mooney had the guts to take the penalty and curled it into the corner, out of Knight's reach. That was the bit of luck we needed and it ought to have spurred us on to a win - sadly, it didn't work out like that.
First half injury time (all five minutes of it) presented the most exciting passage of play. First Dixon thumped in a shot from a tight angle and Knight did well to get his body in the way - shame, Dixon deserves a goal. Just a minute or so later, Miller pulled off a superb double save to deny a seemingly certain goal - blocking the shot as the Pompey striker steamed in on goal, then grabbing the rebound.
The second half was hideous. What is it with us, eh? Portsmouth regained the lead after fifteen minutes when McLoughlin volleyed home a corner - shame that there wasn't a defender within five yards of him, but that's rather typical of our concentration levels. Having got in front, Portsmouth resurrected their offside trap - we didn't have sufficient intelligence to break it down, with Dixon in particular getting caught far too often. The service to the strikers was wretched - Dixon hardly got a look-in and the arrival of Simpson then White made little difference.
Twice we broke through and wasted the chances - Ramage opted to shoot first-time from miles out and the ball bobbled wide, Porter had a better effort but it still missed the target. There was so little cohesion to our play - in previous games we've managed to bludgeon our way past defences, this time nothing came off. We weren't good enough. We have to start playing football again.
The referee didn't help the game much. Aside from a zillion and one laughable decisions, the fact that the match ended after five to five is ridiculous. If I want to watch a game that pauses for a minute every time the ball goes dead, I'll choose American football. In the first half, a Pompey player went down injured off the pitch - play could've continued but the ref went over to wait for about a minute until he was fit to return. As Pompey wasted time in the second half, he stopped his watch but refused to hurry them along or show a card - if he'd played all the added time, we'd still be there now. The game was lame enough without his help.
Appropriately, a game so lacking in intelligence (from players, referee and fans) ended with two moments of monumental stupidity. As Ludden went in for a challenge, the ball broke to a Pompey forward who had a clear run on goal - the ref chose to give a free kick to Pompey so that he could book Ludden. The players appeared to be too stunned to complain. Finally, as Portsmouth arsed about down at the corner flag, Durnin got into a fracas with Hessenthaler and, rather than remind Hess of the score and walk away, decided to headbutt him. Clever boy - he was duly sent off.
All in all, not the best game of the season. Tragically, not the worst either.
From bad to worse
Report by Kate Holmes
With our chances of avoiding the drop looking as likely as a British winner at Wimbledon this summer (so that's pretty damn likely, then - Optimistic Ed), this was the game we could not afford to slip up on, as Luther reckoned on needing six wins from eight games. Still possible, but highly unlikely.
Looking at this game, we were without Colin Foster so played Porter from the start, with Colin "Beanie" Simpson on the bench. I could not believe it when Beanie actually became a pro, as he really is not a footballer. His nickname comes from an astonishing likeness to Mr Bean. When I saw him run onto the pitch, I just laughed. I get the feeling Jeremy Beadle is going to appear at any second to tell us that this season has all been one gigantic wind-up. I've got nothing against Beanie, as he is a really nice lad, but he should not be a professional footballer.
Next bad step - Hessy won the toss and chose to shoot the wrong way. Obviously shooting towards the massed ranks in the Rookery in the second half is going to help the team to attack more. I don't know what happened to the side but they just did not perform. Portsmouth played their usual style of hoof, kick opponent, offside, crap - just the sort of team we do badly against.
Their first goal could be predicted - I saw it coming for the entire move. The player who scored was 66-1 for the first goal and I remembered thinking that it was almost worth a flutter to break the trend of conceding the first goal. Not that I actually did put money on him. If I had done, he would have missed that chance, and we wouldn't be feeling quite this demoralised.
This really was a dismal showing, which was not improved by an extremely inept referee. He just did not have a clue, and allowed a few nasty challenges by their players to go unpunished. Rams was studded down the back of his leg, Porter and Ludden both had kicks in the head and there were a few late tackles flying in. Unfortunately for us, without Payne and Johnno, and even Penrice and Holdsworth, we haven't got a player prepared to give them a taste of their own medicine. I know it is unprofessional to get dragged down to their level, but it would have given the game more of an edge.
Amazingly, we did get an equaliser via the referee, who gave us a penalty for a very blatant handball - it would have been almost impossible to have missed it. With our track record, I was not that confident but Tommy Mooney planted it into the bottom right (left as we look at it) corner, beyond the fingertips of the keeper. It made such a pleasant change to see us make the most of the chance - it's so long since we've had a penalty, we probably forgot how to miss it.
Scores level at half-time, and everyone fairly optimistic for the second half - after the Sunderland match we had every right to expect a better performance than we got. It just did not happen. Rams and Porter were doing okay in midfield, but Baze and Ludden were pretty awful. Neither centre half gave a good performance, and Page got booked which puts him out of the Scum game. The blame cannot really be put on anyone in particular, as nobody played well - with the exception of Kev in goal. He made one world-class save at the end of the first half when one-on-one with one of their players.
The second half went from bad to worse. Porter missed by inches with one shot, but he was later substituted, rather surprisingly, which saw the introduction of Beanie making his debut. After they scored, there was no way back into the game for us, and we appeared to just give up. Portsmouth used every time-wasting ploy which the ref seemed happy to allow. He did add some time on at the end, which led to one of their players getting sent off. It does make you wonder what goes through the minds of some of these players. I cannot understand why he felt the need to headbutt Hessy, from behind as well - total coward. The game was in injury time, they had won, they even had the throw. I suppose Durnin thought he might get away with it, as it was right in front of the linesman.
That effectively ends all hope. We only have one game to redeem our entire season. If we beat Scum, and bring them down with us, it will almost be worth it. A bit of straw-clutching here...