Pompey 0 Newport County 3 '“ Neil Allen's match report
In the dying throes, the Fratton end produced a song with its collective last-gasp.
Many had long since departed, unable to stomach the wretched display, resulting in swathes of empty seats.
Yet some hardy souls were prepared to willingly soldier on – delving deep to find their voice amid the match’s agonising conclusion.
‘We’re going to Wembley’ to the tune of Que Sera, Sera steadily rose in volume as it gathered momentum, arm-in-arm, side-by-side.
It has often been said many a true word is spoken in jest, and that tongue-in-cheek play-off reference chiselled out smiles where there were snarls.
Defeat to Newport County, the manner of which was completely unacceptable, cast more doubt in the minds of Blues supporters.
Curiously, in terms of points, Paul Cook’s men actually lost no more ground on the automatic promotion spots following defeats also for Oxford United and Plymouth.
On the other hand, they slipped to sixth as rivals clambered above to stake their own persuasive top-three claims.
Still, there are 10 games to go for Pompey in the on-going pursuit.
Yet tellingly, Saturday’s gallows humour in those final few minutes of that defeat while 3-0 down perfectly illustrated the Fratton faithful’s doubts.
To many, a play-off place remains the most realistic proposition during a season in which their progress continues to be choked by inconsistency.
It was supposed to be a third successive league victory for a maiden time this season, a fixture to cement a recent storming run consisting of that eye-catching result at Accrington in the week.
A return of 10 points from a possible 12 and suddenly Cook’s side were displaying a swagger as the season approached its decisive period.
Then Newport happened.
Cook’s men lacked trademark energy, vibrancy eluded them as the cogs in their high tempo game groaned to a standstill.
Lethargy reigned, tiredness perhaps. The welcome promotion charge had suddenly been reduced to a desperate crawl.
It was indistinguishable from the classy display rolled out at the Crown Ground only days before, a showing regarded as one of Pompey’s finest of the campaign.
Not a flicker of recognition would have crossed the faces of those present for both such widely-contrasting fixtures.
From the Blues at their best to Pompey at their worst, extremes to sum up the weakness of Cook’s creation. The rain which followed the sunshine.
So credit to those who steadfastly remained for the relief of that final whistle, those final few minutes subsequently generating the finest atmosphere of the game.
How tempting it would have been to avert their gaze from the painful proceedings played out in front. Many among that 16,245 attendance certainly did as they fled for the exits early.
Yet as Cook’s 10-men limped to defeat, those remaining sang support for their manager – in addition to that nod of acknowledgement towards potentially a play-off fate.
If that was a fair reflection of the supporters’ mindset having been forced to lower their sights this season, Newport followers also had their say.
‘We are staying up’ chimed the delighted 386 visiting fans stationed in one half of the Milton end. To think in October they had been adrift at the foot of the table.
A stark reminder to Cook and his side that such teams require disposing of on home turf if a serious promotion challenge is to be mounted.
Pompey failed, however, and it was to be the newly-safe Exiles who emerged as worthy winners as they made it three successive Fratton Park victories.
Of course, the 59th minute departure of Gary Roberts hindered any aspiration of kickstarting the spluttering side.
Truth be told, although it impacted on the hosts in terms of numbers on the pitch, it failed to make already an awful performance any worse.
The performance of referee Ben Toner certainly shouldn’t be held up as a handy distraction to shield the abject Blues. They don’t deserve protection.
The Lancashire official had already set an alarming tone by booking Danny Hollands and Enda Stevens for trivial first-offence fouls.
Admittedly, Roberts gave him no choice for his first caution, a petulant trip on Medy Elito in the 52nd minute as the winger sped away.
It was reminiscent of a Sunday League moment, an angry kicking out at an opponent who had just got the better of him.
Only seven minutes later and that error of judgement from the 31-year-old proved crucial as Toner gave him his marching orders.
Roberts cut in from the right and after tumbling to the floor following a challenge from Andrew Hughes, the referee adjudged a dive.
Toner was in a perfect position to make such a big accusation – and the Blues were down to 10-men.
At that stage they were already behind to Darren Jones’ 34th minute opener, barely threatening to haul themselves on level terms.
Following Roberts’ departure there was to be no coming back, despite use of all three substitutes.
Jones’ header arrived after Elito’s cross from the left had been flicked up into the air by a team-mate, the central defender arriving to beat Ryan Fulton to the ball.
It was a crucial misjudgment from Fulton, who has been largely faultless during his loan spell. By failing to swiftly deal with the aerial ball, Jones was allowed to intervene.
Ahead of kick-off, Cook had opted to bring Marc McNulty back into the side in place of Michael Smith.
Certainly there was very little tinkering to the team which won 3-1 at Accrington on Tuesday night, with the 4-2-3-1 system remaining.
In fact, only an injury to Kieron Freeman prevented the same 18 named for a third fixture in a row.
Yet the game was effectively over before Roberts’ sending off, such was the unshakable malaise within those same players who had shone so brightly on Tuesday night.
Scott Boden headed home Elito’s left-wing cross on 69 minutes to double the advantage and then, three minutes from time, substitute Dean Morgan finished Mark Byrne’s right-wing delivery.
By that stage the Fratton end was half empty, with other parts of the ground also well vacated.
Those who remained, however, delivered their message.
‘Que Sera, Sera’.