|Mansfield Town 0 v 1 Portsmouth|
SkyBet League Two
Saturday, 29th April 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Mansfield 0 Pompey 1: View from a different North Stand
Sunday, 30th Apr 2017 15:07 by Steve Bone at Field Mill
'Woke up this morning feeling fine...'
It's true - I did wake up on Saturday morning feeling fine, and looking forward to my first Pompey away trip for just over a year - with what was a new ground for me thrown in for good measure.
Field Mill, Mansfield, was the destination, and there was no 'must-win' pressure. This was only the fourth time in my 36 seasons as a Blues fan I'd gone to see Pompey play with promotion already in the bag - the others having been home to Walsall in May 1983, home to Sheffield United in May 87, and that wonderful day at Bradford 14 years ago when all the players wore white boots and Toddy won a golden one.
The added bonus as we headed up north (I know Mansfield is not up north to some, but it's the other side of Portsdown Hill, so it is to me) was that, although our League One spot was already assured, we still had the small matter of a title to fight for.
We got to Mansfield around 1pm but couldn't find the ground, or any signpost for it, for a while. In my fanzine-writing days we had a feature called 'Obscure Clubs of the Football League' and Mansfield were No1 in the series - they always seemed a club who weren't doing anything, good or bad, and certainly were one that Pompey never used to play at that time. Even though we've now played them eight times in the past four seasons, they still seem obscure to me.
I possibly didn't see the best of Mansfield on the drive in and back out, but it seems a dour, featureless sort of place. But when we finally got to the ground and parked, as advised, in the Dairycrest depot just along Quarry Lane from the ground (£3 for the day - the price of a few pints of milk - bargain), things got, well, less dour.
The locals were friendly but what a strange set-up at the ground. To get from the back of the main stand to the away end, instrad of being able to use a simple route through a gate, the powers-that-be decide you have to go the long way - halfway round the ring road, past Burger King and a couple of terraced streets and down a long lane to the turnstiles. Very odd.
Inside, the catering staff were talkative, which helped make up for the mediocre level of the fare they served up. I'd gave the pasty a 6/10 (it was probably nice at the previous home game, when I suspec it was originally heated up) and the hot chocolate (on a par with our North Stand Lower's efforts) 7/10.
Our seats were excellent - back row but one in the centre of the stand. And one thing I love about away games is you bump into people you never see at home games. For me, this time, it was my old mate and Pompey stalwart Phil Haydon. Plus a couple near us who I didn't know but who knew who I was (disconcerting) and wanted to know if I'd be interested that they'd once seen Mustapha Dumbuya in Asda in Chandler's Ford. Would i?!
'I've got promotion on my mind...'
The atmopshere built slowly but steadily and there were some early renditions of our 'Woke up this morning' and 'We're on our way' songs, and the team - as you'd hope for one that's got promoted with room to spare - got a great reception both when warming up and when coming out at 2.55. There are things that happen at away games that never happen at Fratton Park and under that heading I can add 'being handed some tickertape by a fan dressed as a yellow crayon (aka Sam Bowers, son of the man who talks on the wireless, Bunky). He was, for the record, one of three different-coloured crayons.
There was a bit - though not a lot - of takeover talk in the air. Some offered me their views - some asked for mine (which is that we should not be selling up lock, stock and barrel when we have only just paid our admission money and gone through the turnstile at the fan-owned adventure park).
And so to the game. Something I have learned in recent seasons is that Pompey awaydays can be superb fun but quite often the actual game itself isn't really part of that fun. It was true two years at Morecambe, where the pies and the Polo Tower were the stand-out features of the trip, and it was true at Field Mill, where we had two teams not so much cancelling each other out, more just giving the ball to one another after taking it turns to head and pass it around for about 15 seconds at a time.
To be honest, when your team have won eight out of the past 10, you can forgive off-days, and in any case, some credit ought to go to the defence. The Stags didn't give them anything like their toughest test of the season, but the back four and David Forde behind them did their jobs professionally. Forde was particularly consistent in the way he watched Mansfield's shots at goal sail high or wide.
Kal Naismith provided the highlight of the first half, though not in the way he has been doing in the past couple of months, by running on to a through-ball and taking the most terrific air shot seen in a long time - and going a over t in the process.
Half-time brought more songs, news that Doncaster and Plymouth were losing and a lovely little cameo performance on the pitch with the Pompey subs by a young lad in a Pompey kit who had clearly been perfecting his goal celebrations as much as his ball skills. He certainly gave Gary Roberts a good work-out.
The goal came out of nowhere 12 minutes into the second half and Carl Baker had no right to be able to turn and find the far bottom corner of the net in the way he did. A fine effort in 90 minutes when such skill levels were otherwise nowhere to be seen. Before the goal, Matt Clarke was perhaps lucky not to be sent off for a last-man foul justside the Blues box; after it, the only other incident of note was Roberts brilliantly setting up Naismith for what should have been the second, but he wanted to hit it with his left foot when his right would have been my first choice.
As the afternoon wore on, the conga started, and the songs just kept on coming. The 'Woke Up This Morning' one is impossible not to clap and sing along to, and as I have found out in the 24 hours since, is a real earworm. And Pompey held on through six minutes of stoppage time without any real alarms to move one point behind Donny (though still two behind Plymouth, who had turned it round versus Crewe).
'Paul Cook's taking us up, like he said he would, oh yeah...'
There were nice scenes at the end as the players, coaches and the legendary Barry Harris came over to take the plaudits and give out some of their own, and it was particularly heart-warming to see Forde hurry along the line of fans at the front of the stand and for high-fives and handshakes - and not surprising to hear later that he'd said in post-match interviews he was keen to stay with Pompey. Good news indeed.
Home we went, still whistling and humming that tune, and even at Cherwell Valley Services on the M40, which I realised is situated within a triangle whose points are three grounds we will be going to next season (Northampton, Oxford and MK Dons) you could still hear it being sung if you were there, as we were, when one of the Pompey coachloads arrived.
Another plus from the day - not one traffic jam to hold us up. The only congestion is at the top of League Two. Home in time to see the League Two goals on Channel 5 and to reflect on a lovely Pompey day. As someone at the back of the Field Mill stand had said to me as we soaked up the atmosphere: 'This is why I bought a share.'
I thought back to that comment when back at home as I checked the detail of the League Two table and looked at the final set of fixtures. And I thought to myself....
'Something tells me I'm into something good...'
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