Portsmouth 5-1 Bradford City
Pompey found the sort of league form that had deserted them since New Year’s Day to claim their first league win in nine, scoring five goals in the process.
A penalty from Gareth Evans and a Tom Naylor effort from close range sent Pompey in two up at half-time, with further goals from Jamal Lowe and two from Ben Close after the break. Hope Akpan scored what turned out only to be a consolation for the visitors.
The game was stopped for a short period in the second half as a drone was apparently spotted over the pitch, but before the players could even make their way to the dressing rooms referee Oliver Langford called them back to restart the game.
Bradford got back into the game shortly after to bring the score back to 2-1 before Pompey showed the gulf in class with three more strikes to reignite hopes of claiming an automatic promotion spot.
The negatives for Pompey were a clash of heads between Nathan Thompson and Matt Clarke – both forced off – and injuries for Oli Hawkins and Ronan Curtis.
The hope that the impressive 3-0 win over Bury on Tuesday night in the Checkatrade Trophy semi-final would provide a boost to their league form duly arrived four days later.
Maybe it was the Wembley carrot that lead to the players upping their game but the presence of Christian Burgess at the back would have been a fillip to the whole squad.
Kenny Jackett had announced the centre-back would be missing following the ankle injury he picked up in midweek but the 27-year-old defied the Portsmouth medical department to take his place in the starting XI.
Lowe was also back for a game that was must-win following second-top Barnsley’s 3-0 win at Southend in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off.
Ahead of the game there were two ways of looking at Pompey’s form depending on whether your glass was half-full or half-empty – five games unbeaten in all competitions or no win in the league since New Year’s Day.
Pompey’s first half display was a clear indication that the midweek win had a very positive effect on the players – Hawkins almost putting them ahead after six minutes. Good work by Close and Evans saw the skipper dink the ball to the far post with Hawkins’ header denied by the woodwork.
This was a more confident performance all-round and they duly took the lead in the 22nd minute – admittedly with a little help from referee Langford.
Most at Fratton Park were still watching the ball as Evans’ corner floated into the box in the 22nd minute, but Langford spotted something and blew for a penalty; apparently for a foul on Hawkins, or Naylor, or both.
No-one was complaining, however, least of all Evans who fired the spot kick into the top corner – putting the Omar Bogle miss from the previous weekend to the back of most fans’ minds.
It was Evans’ 12thof the season and Pompey were well on top. They should have been two up in the 37th minute but Curtis couldn’t get the ball out of his feet after he was put in by Hawkins; Lowe’s follow-up effort saved by Richard O’Donnell in the Bantams’ goal.
A few minutes later they did grab a second – again from a corner – O’Donnell this time the villain.
The keeper couldn’t deal with Evans’ ball in with Curtis appearing sure to score only for Paul Caddis and the bar to deny him. Fortunately, Naylor was on hand to slam home the rebound for his third of the campaign to ensure Pompey went into the break with a two-goal advantage.
The memories of Southend and the disintegration of a three-goal lead may have been in the minds of some fans but Bradford didn’t look like scoring, which is always a dangerous sign.
A third would ease any tension amongst the Fratton Park fans but before they could score again their two-goal lead was halved – the Bantams doing what they hadn’t looked like doing and scoring in the 65th minute.
It was shortly after the drone delay when Craig MacGillivray was forced into his first real action of the afternoon when he turned an effort from Hope Akpan for a corner. The resulting ball in, however, wasn’t cleared and Akpan was on hand to fire home.
Any fears amongst the Pompey faithful of another lead surrendered were thankfully extinguished soon after.
A good move started by Burgess saw the ball moved to Curtis then to Lee Brown down the right, his cross chested home by Lowe.
Close then got in on the act with numbers four and five – getting on the end of an Evans’ half volley in the 70th minute and then firing home in the 87thminute.
A clash of heads between Thompson and Clarke, along with the drone incident, saw ten minutes of time added at the end as Pompey claimed an impressive and much-needed victory.
Pompey (4-2-3-1): MacGillivray; Thompson (Walkes 79mins), Burgess, Clarke (Donohoe 84), Brown; Naylor, Close; Lowe, Evans, Curtis; Hawkins (Vaughan 69). Subs (not used): Bass (gk), Haunstrup, Solomon-Otabor, Pitman.
Bradford City (4-2-3-1): O’Connell; Caddis (Mellor 46mins), O’Connor, Knight-Percival, Wood (Miller 63); Butterfield, Akpan; O’Brien, Payne (Clarke 72), Ball; Doyle. Subs (not used): Wilson (gk), Anderson, Patrick, Maltby.
Referee: Oliver Langford