A 3-1 win against fellow high-flyers Bristol Rovers just two weeks ago looked to kick-start the final push for promotion as the 2015-16 season draws ever nearer to its conclusion.
After just one league victory this year, the impressive performance against the Pirates reassured Blues fans that automatic promotion was still viable. However; just as things were looking up, the last 10 days has raised cause for concern.
The Fratton Faithful travelled down to Yeovil in mid-February confident that all three points would be taken off the relegation fighters. Away form had been outstanding with victories on the road against the likes of table-toppers Northampton and second-placed Plymouth. Nevertheless, the Glovers proved hard to break-down and took the lead through Francois Zoko. Despite Gary Roberts pouncing to snatch a point late on, matters were made worse for Pompey after in-form centre-back Christian Burgess was shown his second yellow card and therefore was going to miss last Tuesday’s game at Barnet.
On arrival at The Hive, the Bees lay mid-table and it should have been a winnable match. Having said that, John Akinde was too strong for Adam Webster who tussled and brought him down inside the box just before half-time. Pompey fans were left in shock and, even though there was more of them who had travelled from the South Coast than Barnet had supporting at home, the advantage didn’t pay off. The remaining 45 minutes were not enough for Paul Cook’s men who, at the start of the season, salvaged a draw against Morecombe after being 3-0 down.
One point over the two games saw Pompey slip to eighth in the table – the first time they had sat below the play-offs all season. Furthermore, with Oxford having lost their game in hand against Northampton, the Barnet game proved to be a missed opportunity to gain ground on the automatic promotion places.
Saturday’s home fixture with Cambridge was now critical. With Leyton Orient, Wycombe and Wimbledon all picking up points and raising their game in recent weeks, the Blues could not afford to slip up. Cook made significant changes to his starting line-up, giving starts to attacking due Conor Chaplin and Adam McGurk.
Thankfully it paid off, resulting in a 2-1 win and Portsmouth climbing back into fifth spot. The closeness of League Two sees three points separating fifth and eleventh, meaning that every game is even more crucial between now and the end of the season. Portsmouth still have a game in hand over the top three which takes place at Accrington Stanley, who currently sit one place above Portsmouth and four points ahead.
It is vital that the Blues turn their recent poor form away from home around, with two away games in seven days coming up. Trips to Exeter; and of course Accrington, provide a demanding schedule and take place either side of Saturday’s home match against Newport County. Our large squad should really be of benefit here with Cook able to rotate and still get victories, as Saturday’s game proved.
There are still 42 points to play for this season and every game needs to be played like a cup final in order for promotion to be achieved come May.