Pompey 2 Wycombe 1 '“ Neil Allen's match report
So the play-offs it is then, Plan B has been initiated.
The fixture list decrees three matches remain of the League Two campaign, yet Pompey’s fate has already been chiselled into stone.
Beyond May 7 there lies a minimum of two fixtures against an opposition still unknown on separate dates not yet decided.
How very uncertain.
In the present, though, the Fratton faithful can relax in the knowledge they have their fourth opportunity at promotion this season.
Those three automatic spots have proven to be too big a challenge for this current Blues side.
An unpalatable outcome, yet there should be no anger towards those remaining challengers in the gladiatorial arena.
Accrington are unbeaten in 10 with seven victories since losing at home to Paul Cook’s side. Bristol Rovers have lost twice in 14, winning 10, since given a Fratton Park lesson.
As for Oxford United, seven wins and four draws from 14 fixtures have kept them in the top three.
In contrast, Pompey surrendered a triumph over Plymouth and lost 3-1 at a York side who days later were relegated from the Football League.
Not good enough, lacking in crucial consistency to push such adversaries until the glorious finale. The best teams have truly won.
And here the Blues are, in the League Two play-off spots, promotion aspirations dented but still very much alive courtesy of an alternative route.
After all, no romance story is straightforward. It must have its heartache among the pages before a happy ending.
Victory over Wycombe Wanderers yesterday extended Pompey’s season for entirely positive reasons. Wembley is now the prized target.
Of course, Cambridge United have not yet given up. They require wins from their remaining two matches and must hope Pompey lose their final three in order to pip them to a play-off spot.
Even then there is also the factor of Cook’s side currently possessing an 18-goal advantage.
Not going to happen – and Tuesday night’s opponents AFC Wimbledon should also be safe in their position one place and one point behind the Blues.
As for Wycombe – last year’s beaten League Two finalists to Southend – a 2-1 Fratton defeats ensures they now cannot reach the play-offs this time around.
Pompey are, though, still involved and the ‘Wembley’ chants sprang up with regularity as they bundled the Chairboys out of the equation.
Time for minds to be focused on such a destiny, blueprints drawn up and preparations to be made as Cook adjusts his sights.
In the build-up spanning the three final matches of the league campaign, there’s little need to risk players carrying knocks or rushing others from injury.
Kyle Bennett can be eased back from the foot problem sustained at York. Now thankfully free from crutches, yet the limp is still a mite noticeable.
With Michael Smith’s loan stay expiring after Hartlepool and replacement Conor Wilkinson still inhabiting a Bolton treatment room, time to again look at Marc McNulty.
Indeed, the 11-goal striker was restored to his favoured forward role on Saturday, a welcome relief having endured a dreadful display operating behind Smith at York.
Against the Chairboys there was a rare entry off the bench from Kieron Freeman after 60 minutes, replacing Ben Davies, while Conor Chaplin appeared in the same minute.
Make no mistake, Cook is already looking ahead, examining his options and exploring possibilities.
The immediate pressure has been relieved by that 2-1 victory, now Pompey’s boss can gaze a little further ahead at a potential satisfactory resolution to the campaign.
He has never shirked away from the necessity to meet the promotion challenge – and it is a quest which remains, albeit a route he surely would not have preferred.
Still, in the here and now, a performance was required against Gareth Ainsworth’s side to make sure the Blues would also not slip out of that contention.
Losses to Plymouth and York in the preceding eight days had banished automatic promotion aspirations and heaped doubt over Cook’s side’s credentials.
Yet what followed was a deserved win over a Chairboys side boasting the best defensive record in the league, yet on occasions opened up with encouraging ease.
During the opening 45 minutes in particular it was often vintage Pompey under Cook. Similarly, the failure to gather more than one goal during that purple period was also familiar.
Then there was a nervy final 16 minutes plus time added on once Sido Jombati had reduced the deficit from a free-kick.
Freeman later cleared a Jason McCarthy shot off the line as the Fratton faithful held their breath, yet the win arrived.
Cook had made three changes, at least two enforced following injuries to Adam Webster and Bennett at Bootham Crescent in the week.
Burgess had recovered from an ankle knock to return to the centre of defence in place of Webster, while Roberts was available again following a blow to the head suffered against Plymouth.
The reshuffle saw McNulty pushed up front with Smith dropping to the bench, while Kal Naismith effectively replaced Bennett on the left.
The presences of both Burgess and Roberts were key to the Blues’ display, with the pair also involved in breaking the deadlock on 37 minutes.
The midfielder had already proven to be Wycombe’s chief tormentor, although failed to add a clinical edge to his own goal attempts.
Then Burgess fed McNulty down the right channel with a pass from his own half and the Scot squared for Roberts to slide in at the far post.
The hosts continued to dominate, with Naismith missing his kick with just the keeper to beat before striking the inside of the far post with another first-half attempt.
It was Chaplin who doubled Pompey’s lead seven minutes after entering the pitch for McNulty.
Doyle picked him out with a long pass down the left and the youngster took a touch before striking a left-foot shot which skidded and trickled into the far corner of the net.
Jombati reduced the deficit on 74 minutes but Cook’s men held on for a victory understandably well-received at the final whistle.
Now all is clear – it’s the play-offs for Pompey.