Solving faults will have Pompey reaching for stars
Pompey left Home Park with the plaudits on Saturday.
But they failed to make their way back from Devon with all the points.
And until they eradicate the familiar deficiencies in their game such results will remain.
Paul Cook’s post-match debrief in a dusty corner of Plymouth’s home quite rightly accentuated the positives in the wake of another white-knuckle showdown with the Pilgrims.
Managerial accounts of their team’s performances have been known to be seen through one-eyed prisms on such occasions.
Cook was justified in delivering the conviction his team were the superior across another intriguing match-up with the leaders, however.
And he is now seeing his Pompey Mk II become a side playing in the kind of image he wants to portray.
Fourteen shots to Argyle’s eight was a reasonable reflection of proceedings.
But there was also a certain angst-ridden poetry to the two goals which undid the Blues at the back.
The first, in Groundhog Day fashion, arrived after an opening 20 minutes in which Cook’s side were slowly assuming a stranglehold on the game after the initial jousting.
Inevitably, it had to be a free-kick which did the damage.
So Yann Songo’o joins Ryan Edwards (Morecambe), Bevis Mugabi (Yeovil) and Kelvin Mellor (Blackpool) in being the recipient of Pompey’s inability to deal with set-pieces.
And don’t forget Joseph Mendes (Reading under-23s) and John Akinde (Barnet) who have reaped the benefit of spot-kicks being conceded from a free-kick and corner respectively.
On Saturday, Songo’o’s goal paved the way for Pompey’s set-piece self doubt to surface again.
Derek Adams’ side smelled blood and went for the jugular.
The period was weathered but not without an air of defensive panic being clearly exhibited again by the Blues.
In general play, it’s a different story.
Pompey’s swagger is warranted when they match their talent with the levels of graft exhibited in Devon.
Cook’s side would become an even more comfortable watch, however, if they were more clinical than they presently are.
Fears were raised about that from the comfort of victory at Leyton Orient.
Pompey registered a single-goal success from 17 shots to the home side’s seven.
In defeats to Doncaster (15 shots to six) and Morecambe (25 shots to six) they have had significantly more efforts than their conquerors.
And then came the opening-day draw with Carlisle which arrived despite a jaw-dropping 23 shots being registered to the Cumbrians’ two.
So more compelling evidence of where Pompey again have work to do.
At least they had put their penchant for late goals to bed this season. Until Saturday, that is.
Last season, 90th-minute goals against Exeter, Plymouth, Bristol Rovers, Cambridge, Stevenage, Carlisle and Morecambe accounted for eight lost points. Then the disease finished them off via Pilgrims defender Peter Hartley in the play-offs.
Credit has to be afforded to the sharpness of Connor Smith’s 90th-minute finish on Saturday but any further late goals surfacing would have the alarm bells ringing again.
Making the most of chances and this current Pompey’s great Achilles heel of set-piece frailty are more pressing factors, however.
‘That’s us,’ says Cook when questioned on the traits.
It’s a succinct, almost glib-sounding response to two key issues which have prevented his team from consistently performing.
But it’s an honest comeback from a man who’s agonised over the problems and even considered calling upon sports psychologists to help solve them.
Cook can see this Pompey side of his coming together, though.
Eradicate these faults and they can really soar.