What We Learnt From Pompey's Defeat To Magpies
Jordan Cross assesses what went wrong as Pompey fell to their fourth loss in seven League Two fixtures against Notts County.
We are tired of writing about the same mistakes.
Paul Cook is tired of speaking about the same mistakes. And the Pompey faithful are certainly tired of watching them.
Yet, we continue to witness the issues which undermine the Blues’ ability to be genuine promotion contenders.
While Plymouth’s unspectacular yet sturdy performances see them harvest wins which now put 11 points between them and Cook’s men, Pompey find the same familiar ways to shoot themselves in the foot.
Namely, defensive lapses from set-pieces and an inability to turn dominance into something tangible.
The opening to Saturday’s fifth league defeat of the season followed that well-known path of Pompey assuming control – and then conceding.
And, of course, it had to be a routine free-kick, as a straight ball from Blues old boy Richard Duffy caught Tom Davies out.
Davies was slow to react to the initial ball and in closing down Adam Campbell, who took advantage of the generosity with a cute finish from the edge of the box.
So Notts County becomes the seventh game this season in which a free-kick or corner has led to Cook’s side shipping a goal. A disturbing stat.
And dominating the shot count without making the most of chances is now a sad signifier of this Pompey side.
In defeats to Doncaster (15 shots to six) and Morecambe (25 shots to six) they have had significantly more efforts than their conquerors.
And the draw on the opening day to Carlisle saw a whopping 23 shots to the Cumbrians’ two.
So one goal registered from 17 efforts to the visitors’ five makes for depressing, if not entirely unsurprising, viewing.
The refereeing appointments’ list had Paul Cook fearing the worst.
And the Pompey boss’ fears were confirmed when Nigel Miller took control of Saturday’s game.
Miller continues to be put in charge of matches at the age of 56.
In fact, he didn’t start out as an official until he was 43 – the same age Howard Webb was when he retired.
The likes of former Professional Game Match Officials Board chief, Keith Hackett, has been among those who raised doubts about Miller’s ability to keep up with top-level games.
Pompey made their complaints about his appointment, after Cook received a two-game touchline ban and £1,500 fine when being charged with improper conduct following the August defeat to Morecambe.
Miller was the man in the middle that day, too.
His display at the Globe Arena drove the Blues boss to distraction, so Cook wasn’t surprised to see the County Durham miss fouls on Christian Burgess and Tom Davies in the build-up to Notts County’s winner.
Miller somehow managed not to spot a number of clear fouls in general play, too, which infuriated and perplexed the Blues coaching staff in equal measure.
To be fair, though, he was the same for both sides. He was looking the other way when Aaron Collins saw a contentious red after charging down David Forde’s clearance.
No-one should be dressing up the ref’s display as an excuse for the game’s outcome, though.
ATTACK’S STEP BACK
The signs have been looking promising.
Pompey’s attacking quartet has increasingly had the appearance of a link-up with a fast-developing understanding.
Kyle Bennett’s return to the starting XI in the past two away trips has seen the 26-year-old operate with renewed purpose.
And Conor Chaplin has nailed down the striking role in Paul Cook’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Saturday’s clash with Notts County was his sixth start on the spin.
With Gary Roberts and Carl Baker starting every league game it’s beginning to look a settled formula for the Pompey boss.
And Baker summed up their belief as he spoke of the conviction his side are beginning to click on the front foot.
There was an irresistible feel to their play in the first half, and that feeling of certain success you’d get watching Harry Redknapp’s Pompey of 2003 resurfaced.
It wasn’t if, but when they would score. Unfortunately, profligate finishing ensured that sentiment didn’t linger.
As the game wore on, the attacking play which had been so vibrant became increasingly ragged.
Cook noted that and was ready to try a different approach, by pairing Michael Smith with Curtis Main in a more muscular combination.
He opted not to and expressed regret afterwards on a day when Pompey ran out of attacking ideas.