Pompey 3 Crawley 0

Matt Clarke puts Pompey 1-0 up in the 13th minute Picture: Joe Pepler
Matt Clarke puts Pompey 1-0 up in the 13th minute Picture: Joe Pepler

Kyle Bennett danced past the cumbersome sliding challenge committed by the ponderous Simon Walton.

Next he slipped a pass down the right channel for Marc McNulty to pounce upon, driving an angled shot subsequently blocked by a Crawley body.

Then it arrived.

A rendition of ‘There’s only one Kyle Bennett,’ emanated from the Fratton end on 31 minutes.

Simple, beautifully orchestrated and a watershed moment in the Pompey career of the 25-year-old.

Bennett’s performances have been much derided by some Blues followers, on one occasion booed off the Fratton Park pitch.

The winger’s popularity has lay in being the favourite fall guy among sections of supporters who struggle to see little quality.

Regardless of the criticism, the summer arrival from Doncaster Rovers has weighed in with eight assists so far this season, the likes of Leyton Orient away and Macclesfield at home particularly sublime.

Off the field, Bennett is a polite, chirpy and highly likeable character possessing faith in an ability often questioned.

His footballing approach may involve taking risks which can sacrifice possession, but as a creative player safety is not his style.

And against Crawley finally there was an air of general acceptance among the 16,606.

Certainly Bennett’s presence has never before warranted a song, yet the Fratton faithful discovered their voice – and how he flourished.

Crawley’s 3-0 defeat didn’t consist of a Bennett goal, nor an assist, but the diminutive attacker truly stole the show.

Never afraid at running at the opposition, he was unplayable at times, effortlessly tearing through the flailing Red Devils’ defence.

Extra work on the training ground with coach Robbie Blake has introduced a greater inclination to shoot, a noticeable development to his game of late.

What’s more, Bennett demonstrated his willingness to track back and tackle, on one occasion matching Roarie Deacon for pace before muscling Crawley’s wideman off the ball.

There was even a slide tackle in Pompey’s penalty area during the first-half to draw a generous round of applause.

Enough boxes ticked to satisfy even his most stubborn critics. Well for 90 minutes anyway.

It has taken half a season but the once divisive figure’s consistent run of irresistible performances have begun to win recognition from the majority.

How that Fratton end chant – repeated on several occasions – must have been music to his ears.

In truth, it would have been painstakingly difficult to unearth much to criticise Pompey’s players for during an impressive victory.

Paul Cook regarded the opening 45 minutes as one of their finest during his reign as Crawley failed to discover the keys to their bus.

Mark Yates’ side had infamously slammed the shutters down during the opening seconds of their previous encounter at the Broadway Stadium in August.

Yesterday they displayed a far greater interest in attack and should be applauded for the manner they rallied after an interval which saw a substitution and tactical switch.

Yet they were never given the opportunity to keep Pompey at bay, with the breakthrough arriving on 13 minutes.

Come the half-time whistle, a wilting Crawley were fortunate to escape with just the two-goal deficit, such was the hosts’ supremacy.

Stirring stuff indeed from Cook’s side, who shrugged off the irritation of a goalless draw against Luton earlier in the week to swagger to a triumph.

Enda Stevens has joined Ben Davies in establishing himself as one of the Blues’ outstanding performers during the first half of the campaign and both were key to yesterday’s dominance.

Allowed time and space to attack their respective flanks from full-back, they destroyed the Red Devils during the opening 45 minutes.

The pair would also claim assists for the opening two goals during that golden period of play.

It was Davies whose left-wing corner was headed home by Matt Clarke to break the deadlock on 13 minutes.

A maiden senior goal for the Ipswich Town teenager, who is to extend his Fratton Park loan following its expiry after the match.

On 26 minutes Stevens took his turn to create, his latest in a stream of dangerous deliveries from the left finding Marc McNulty at the far post who took several touches before calmly slotting home.

As with Clarke, it was also the final fixture of the Sheffield United forward’s loan spell. Like Clarke, he will now be staying until the end of the season.

For McNulty it was a sixth goal in 11 appearances during a period on the south coast which has sharpened up Pompey’s attacking edge, along with Caolan Lavery.

Lavery’s own loan spell from has a little longer to run, although Jayden Stockley has now departed the club at the expiry of his.

The Bournemouth striker was left out of the squad for a fourth time in seven games to bring the curtain down on a stay which yielded two goals in 12 matches.

Instead out-of-favour Nigel Atangana found himself in a match-day 18 for the first time since November, with Adam Barton dropping down from the starting XI to dislodge Ben Close.

With Adam Webster given an instant recall having served the red card he received at Leyton Orient, Barton’s omission was the only change to the side which drew against Luton.

Pompey responded by extending their run of clean sheets at Fratton Park to six league matches – and rarely did they look like conceding against Crawley.

The visitors were a different proposition after the break and on 61 minutes did strike the crossbar through Gwion Edwards’ free-kick following a Davies foul. Yet it was the closest they came.

Then seven minutes from time, substitute Ben Tollitt launched a breakneck counter attack from just outside his own penalty area, outpacing Mitch Hancox before slipping in Roberts.

The midfielder netted with a confident left-foot finish, much to his obvious delight, and the 3-0 result was sealed.

Success and smiles all round to kick-off 2016, especially for Bennett.