Brilliant Blues prove Pompey v Sunderland really IS a proper fixture
Sunday, 23rd Dec 2018 21:12 by Steve Bone at Fratton Park
If you take the period from the start of 2010-11 to the present day as a Pompey 'era' – albeit an unfinished one – which games would you rate as the top Fratton Park spectacles, the most memorable ones, during that time?
My top three were: 1 Hammering Cheltenham to snatch the League Two title; 2 Beating Sheffield Utd 3-0 three days after the fans' takeover was approved in 2013; 3 The 2-1 win over Wigan and rocking atmosphere that accompanied it last season.
Now, though, in a chart twist Mark Goodier would be excited to reveal, the Wigan game is out of the top three and the Blades day is third spot.
For the date December 22 has again come good and produced an occasion which will be talked about for years to come.
On the same date in 1984 it was one man with a white beard and another with long blond locks that gave us a day of days. That was, of course, a man in a Santa suit and a fella named Biley in a blue No10 shirt who gave us a 2-1 come-from-behind promotion-six-pointer victory over Oxford that anyone present will never forget.
Thirty-four years on Fratton Park shook with raw passion every bit as much, as the present-day Pompey – one who increasingly look fit to take their place among the most loved sides in our entire history – decided Christmas should again arrive three days early for Blues fans.
I'd been looking forward to this clash of the League One giants since the fixtures came out. Pompey v Sunderland, whichever division it happens to take place in, is a proper game of football in my book, just like Pompey v Leeds, Villa, Nottingham Forest or even Blackburn.
It's the sort of fixture that makes you wonder how we managed to put up with several seasons of playing Morecambe and Crawley.
To say this weekend's game lived up to expectations does not do it justice. This was a match-up between two very well-supported teams who want to play football, want to entertain and want to win. And, in my view, despite the Black Cats losing a bit of ground to Luton of late, it was a meeting of the two teams who will go up automatically at the season's end.
Everything about the afternoon was right. Pre-match meetings with friends and fellow fans with Christmas greetings in the air; blue v red and white (hurrah for a team not unnecessarily changing their kit), a cracking atmosphere (I saw someone describe it slightly different as 'crackling' and that is spot on), attacking football - and one or two meaty tackles and afters, which despite the best efforts of the authorities to outlaw them altogether, do live on in games like this.
At half-time the home fans were content. It was 0-0 and all to play for. Pompey had given their all without any real threat of a breakthrough.
The start of the second half was one of those periods of a game that seem like a dream while it's going on. Penalty awarded, red card shown, penalty walloped into the roof of the net, second goal scored, silly goal given away, third one lashed in to relieve the nerves. All in less than 20 minutes. Phew.
We didn't want it to end, even though we knew that when it did, we'd be eight points ahead of the side who are probably still our biggest rivals for the title.
Sunderland used to pride themselves on the Roker Roar; this time, from the Milton End, they had to listen to the Fratton Roar. If you've not done so already, do listen back to the video and audio clips of the goals and celebrations the club and various fans have posted.
And how great to hear some of the old songs, like 'Southerners, la la la' – it really did feel like we were back in the mid-1980s a few times, and those of us of a certain age were delighted to feel we were.
My son has been coming to Fratton Park with me since 2011 and has therefore seen more thin than thick. After this famous win he said he didn't need any Christmas gifts – that was his perfect present right there. Whether he maintains that view on Christmas morning remains to be seen.
I've not, so far, mentioned any of the individuals in blue responsible for giving us such joy, and, without wanting to be cliched, all 14 who appeared played their part.
But I thought Jack Whatmough was absolutely immense – faultless in fact – at the back, while Ben Thompson must already have more MoM awards to his name that some players who spent years at Fratton Park. Gareth Evans deserves high praise for that penalty. The best keeper in the world, whoever that might be, wouldn't have kept that out.
And what can you say about Oli Hawkins and Ronan Curtis? Outstanding. They took on physical opponents and outmuscled them. Curtis in particular terrorised the players who had the misfortune to be playing on Sunderland's right-hand side, even before the goal glut began.
As usual, I'm probably getting far too carried away with one victory. But I'm not suggesting we are going to go on and march to promotion with six games to spare.
We may, we may not – we certainly have a great chance if this talented squad stay together and stay fit. But for me, Dec 22, 2018, like Dec 22, 1984, was not just about the bigger picture of how many points ahead of x, y and z we are and how it will affect other upcoming games.
It was about being at Fratton Park and seeing Pompey pride and passion before your very eyes.
You won't get that at every game – you might only get it in such a healthy measure once every couple of seasons. But boy is it good to be part of when it comes along.
Merry Christmas everyone. Here's to Pompey v Sunderland in 2019-20 in the Championship. Reckon it might be a decent game.
by STEVE BONE @stevebone1 on Twitter - feedback / comments welcome
Photo: Action Images
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