Plymouth 3 Pompey 0

Reuben Reid's drive beats Paul Jones to make it 3-0. Picture: Joe Pepler
Reuben Reid's drive beats Paul Jones to make it 3-0. Picture: Joe Pepler

An expressionless Iain McInnes cut an isolated figure surveying the rain-blighted Home Park pitch.

Pompey’s chairman had managed to stomach the full duration of the 3-0 defeat which had just unfolded.

As inquests raged among the people from the city after the final whistle, he sought time on his own, a directors’ box solitude broken only upon a comforting hug from ex-Blues man Steve Davey.

Saturday fell 24 hours short of the anniversary of AFC Wimbledon, a wretched occasion when McInnes stormed out of his seat in disgust before the final whistle.

At the time of that 4-0 loss, the Blues were 16th – while one match later Guy Whittingham had been sacked as boss.

Still, the chairman managed to endure Saturday’s match to the bitter end, yet the performance was no less alarming than a year earlier.

In terms of progress, Pompey today sit just three places higher in comparison, despite an overhaul of players and an increased budget.

And criticism in the direction of Andy Awford has arrived from some.

Truly harsh and rather unfair considering it represents his first difficult period during a golden start.

Besides, for a club purporting to be a role model of stability, potentially seeking a fourth manager within a year is hideous.

Nonetheless, Saturday was dreadful and will do little to quell the knees jerking into the back of the current incumbent’s seat at present.

For last season, dredge up from the memory banks York, Bristol Rovers, Scunthorpe, Rochdale and, of course, AFC Wimbledon.

This term now file Plymouth alongside Bury and Southend.

Woeful displays, all on Pompey’s travels, culminating in defeats and lighting the firecrackers of doubt over the players’ abilities.

General opinion rightly pinpoints this Blues squad as not being equipped in its current guise to launch a realistic challenge for automatic promotion.

The play-offs are a different matter, a challenge certainly not out of the question considering the present deficit of five points and the lengthy duration of the season remaining.

Yet with every defeat arriving in the manner as witnessed on Saturday, the evidence grows that a squad previously considered large actually has quality spread too thinly.

Plymouth were the latest team to shine the torch into the dark crevices of Pompey disappointment, ruthlessly highlighting their ills.

Without the inspiration of the injured James Dunne and the defensive guile of the suspended Paul Robinson, the visitors were shockingly poor.

Defensively brittle, short of fight and devoid of creativity, it was painful to watch for those eager to see Pompey succeed, particularly the abysmal first-half display.

A haul of three goals in the opening 30 minutes did the trick for John Sheridan’s side before they eased off the accelerator during the second half, having the luxury of bringing off star striker Reuben Reid after 67 minutes.

Defeat inflicted by a Pilgrims side who have a strike pairing yielding 16 goals between them so far and a defence with six clean sheets in their last nine games.

What’s more, they are able to employ a wing-back system that works, with Kelvin Mellor down the right giving Nicky Shorey a torrid time with an outstanding display.

Compare and contrast with this Pompey side.

Clearly new, experienced additions are required at Fratton Park, specifically right-back, centre-half, central midfield and up front if aspirations of even the play-offs are to be cemented.

And Home Park merely emphasised the necessity of such recruitment for Awford as he strives for consistent positive results, particularly away from home.

The question remains, is it progress Pompey are aiming for this season or a way out of a League Two environment growing ever-more bleak?

Over to Awford then, who elected to go it alone after the match, instructing his players not to speak to the waiting press.

We are all tired of player platitudes and grand apologies following such occasions – it’s time for them to perform and respond with positive actions on the field of play.

With Aldershot in an FA Cup replay on Wednesday, it represents a huge fixture for all concerned.

On Saturday, Pompey’s boss elected to switch from 4-4-2 to 4-1-4-1 in an attempt at nullifying the wing-back system which has been such a driving force behind the Pilgrims’ outstanding recent form.

That saw the dropping of Craig Westcarr to the bench, with Miles Storey employed as the sole striker, while the attacking tendencies of Nigel Atangana also saw him relegated to a spot among the substitutes.

Instead, Nick Awford was granted his full Football League debut following several cup outings this season and he was joined in the centre of midfield by Jack Whatmough.

Already missing the injured Dunne, Awford’s options also received a hit with Johnny Ertl unavailable for personal reasons.

The third and final change to the side which drew so disappointingly with Aldershot the previous weekend was Ben Chorley in for the suspended Robinson.

Certainly questions were raised by many in the build-up over the team selection – and within six minutes the visitors had fallen behind.

Lewis Alessandra was allowed space inside the penalty box and as the defence played catch-up Shorey made contact to send him sprawling.

Reid did the rest from the penalty spot to put Plymouth ahead.

On 21 minutes the hosts had another, Mellor squaring a pass to the unmarked Alessandra inside the box, who sidefooted the ball past Paul Jones.

Next it was a second for Reid, Mellor twisting and turning to leave Shorey sprawled on the floor before slipping the ball back where Plymouth’s top scorer steered a first-time shot into the far corner.

Effectively game over, there was no coming back, not for this Pompey team, not on this day.

Awford’s men did receive plenty more possession after the break.

But they rarely threatened, despite Sheridan’s men easing off.

There were still scares for Pompey, though. Lee Cox hit the bar and substitute Deane Smalley saw a fierce shot superbly tipped onto the post by Jones.

A miserable day and worryingly this season in League Two is providing increasing reminders of the last campaign.