A Mendes moment in reverse? Pompey must not let it be so...
Wednesday, 1st May 2019 20:31 by Steve Bone at Fratton Park
I maintain to this day that in 2006, our Great Escape was made possible not by the fact we beat Manchester City at Fratton Park when 10 points adrift with 10 to play, but by the manner in which we won that day.
The timing of that Mendes moment, 10 seconds from the end of three added minutes, never to be forgotten by anyone who witnessed it, was the catalyst for a run that yielded, in total, 20 points out of the final 30 possible and kept us up.
Now, 13 years on, I'm fretting that Pompey's promotion prospects may be harmed not by the defeat to Peterborough, but, again, by the manner of it.
I hope I'm wrong – let's face it, it won't be the first time if I am – but I do worry about how much those two second-half minutes will affect the confidence of players who have given so much, who have strained every muscle for the cause, in the past six weeks or so.
The penultimate match of the regular League One season was quite something. But has such an intense atmopshere ever become such a flat one so quickly? I can't remember anything quite like it.
The first half-hour had all the ingredients needed for a classic 'big Pompey letdown'. The longer you've been watching the Blues, the more you've seen of them. The promotion near misses, the brushes with cup giantkillings that never quite became cup giant killings, the ability to snatch a draw from the jaws of a famous victory, the after-the-lord-mayor's-show performances.
Example: a 5-0 win at Millwall watched by about 10 away fans during the Merson-Toddy-Yak days, followed three days later by a 10,000-strong following away to Wimbledon... and a 2-1 defeat.
They're not exclusive to us, these letdowns, these glorious failures. All clubs have them from time to time, it's just that we're all obviously more familiar with the Pompey downs that follow the Pompey ups as sure as Alan Knight follows Mervyn Day.
Anyhow, at 2-0 down v the Posh with an hour to play, it was looking like a forgettable Fratton night. But the Blues knew what was on the line and roused themselves, and the crowd responded magnificently. Or maybe it was that the crowd roused themselves and the players responded.
Whichever, by early in the second half Ben Close and Christian Burgess had struck to pull Pompey level and the old ground was rocking, crackling in fact. I think it was Bob Beech who said on Twitter during the day we needed to turn the place back into the bearpit it used to be, and by crikey we did last night.
When the equaliser went in from Burgess – and by the way what an immense performer he has been since being thrown back into the side after Jack Whatmough's untimely injury – the roar was amazing. It went through you. At that point, plenty of us were thinking we could go on to win 4-2 or 5-2.
Then... the moment, or rather the two moments, that will haunt us for a long time if we don't now go on to win the play-offs.
A pass from Nathan Thompson and Brett Pitman is through, with, crucially, Viv Solomon-Otabor in support. It's like slow motion as the club captain bears down on the goalie, though his new-found pace means it isn't slow at all. He must score … he must … and had Viv not been to his left, he probably would have done. If there was one player you'd want to have that sort of one-on-one chance etc etc...
But he chose what he obviously thought was the better option and neither he nor the man he passed to had given a moment's thought to the fact a flag might go up. Offside he was, up went the flag, chance snatched away.
It was such a clear-cut moment, it immediately put me in mind of Brighton's 'And Smith Must Score' moment in the 1983 FA Cup final. I wonder if in years to come, there will be a Pompey fanzine called 'Don't Pass It To Viv, Brett' But we worried not for a moment – for surely another chance would come.
It did, and quickly, but at the other end. I can't remember too much about the move that led to the Peterborough winner but recall an awful sense of dread as Ivan Toney found himself with only Big Craig Mac to beat. And beat him he did. Fratton was stunned. We were all stunned. Sick to the stomach.
I can't recall the life being sucked out of a team and their fans like that for a long time, though there probably have been instances. Ronnie Whelan's equaliser at Highbury 27 years ago must have brought a similar feeling of doom.
Pompey had little energy left for a final onslaught and with that, hopes of automatic promotion were gone. In truth, they had also been gone back in February after an eight-game run without a win, and were just as distant after the televised loss at The Valley.
Amid the disappointment, then, you have to have high praise for the way Kenny Jackett, his staff and his players have brought us to this point. One game to go – automatic promotion only just out of sight, a play-off berth assured. Remember, just two years ago we were still in League Two.
But what now? Saturday brings a chance to secure third place which, in the cold light of day, seems the best place to be as the play-off semi-final line-up is worked out. Finish third and you'll be playing Doncaster or, gulp, Peterborough; fourth and fifth and you're looking at renewing acquaintances with Sunderland or Charlton.
On Twitter an hour or two after the loss to the Posh, I suggested we should play the kids on Saturday with the very aim of NOT finishing third – as I didn't fancy facing Peterborough again after the manner of that defeat. Not surprisingly I was shouted down and told in no uncertain terms Darren Fergsuon's team (that's if they do pip Donny, who as we know are not known for holding their nerve on the final day) were more desirable play-off semi opposition than the Black Cats or Addicks. Despite being told otherwise and in one case being described as an idiot for saying so, I am a stubborn type and still half think I'm right.
Anyhow, it doesn't matter who we think it would be best to play when, where or how. We will play who we have to play and hope for the best.
Football is not scientific, and despite the efforts of the pro-VAR lobby never will be. And the fact Charlton have won their past three league meetings with us does not in itself mean they will defeat us again in the knockouts. Nor does our record v Sunderland this season mean they will be particularly fearing a sudden-death tussle with Kenny's boys.
It's our third time in the Football League play-offs and the first two attempts have ended at the first hurdle. The law of averages says that of each four ventures a club make into the play-offs (which by the way I disliked when they were introduced in 1987 and still dislike now), you should by rights experience two semi-final defeats, one final defeat and a final win. Which means we are at least due to get to Wembley this time, a little ground we know the way to and don't seem to mind playing at.
Whatever happens over the next three or hopefully four games, it's been a superb season. We didn't expect, before it started, to spend three months at the top; didn't expect to go two months without a win once we had looked down on the rest; and didn''t expect to get back into the race for an automatic spot once things went so awry. And then, let's be honest, we didn't expect to lose to Peterborough.
All of which goes to show... predicting Pompey matters is futile. We'd all be better off spending our time practising our bear impressions for the home leg of the play-off semi. Hold on tight, everyone.
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