Portsmouth 1 Hartlepool United 0: Roy Kelly’s Hartlepool Mail match report

HANDY ANDY: Andy Rafferty makes his penalty save against Portsmouth. Picture by FRANK REID
HANDY ANDY: Andy Rafferty makes his penalty save against Portsmouth. Picture by FRANK REID

ONLY Hartlepool United could go from the fringes of the promotion play-offs to the outskirts of the relegation zone in the space of three weeks.

You would not imagine for one minute that Pools could go down, given they are six points clear of the drop zone and have the best goal difference of any club in the bottom half of the table.

But should they lose for the fifth time in a row this Saturday against Chesterfield and Northampton win, the gap would only be three points.

It’s a worrying proposition.

Pools are falling faster than a horse at Becher’s Brook, if you forgive the Grand National analogy.

And while they conceded four to Mansfield a couple of Tuesdays ago, you wouldn’t say they have been getting tortured – the other three defeats were 1-0.

There lies the crucial figure – nil.

Pools did not beat, stretch or even test the Portsmouth keeper once on Saturday afternoon.

Yes, Trevor Carson had a few corners to deal with but nothing out of the ordinary.

Ordinary was one word which summed up Pools at Fratton Park. Not that Portsmouth were extra-ordinary.

This reporter is not sure who won Saturday’s game – Pompey’s players or the crowd.

The home players, fuelled by 80 per cent adrenalin and 20 per cent talent, were untouchable for almost the entire first half.

They out-played, out-fought and out-ran Pools, who barely got a kick.

And when the adrenalin wore off they were carried home by as passionate a crowd you will ever see – or hear.

Their support from the first whistle to the last, 98 minutes later, was a lesson to any set of fans.

It probably didn’t last that long but one chant of “Andy Awford’s blue and white army” seemed to last for over five minutes in the second half.

And they had plenty to shout about, especially in the whirlwind opening assault.

The Pompey faithful had not seen a goal in 312 minutes at Fratton Park.

They only had to wait 75 more seconds on Saturday.

To say only Andy Rafferty was switched on would be an understatement.

Ricky Holmes swung over a long free-kick to the far side of the Pools box.

Ryan Taylor won the header which Rafferty did superbly to save, diving to his right.

Alas, the rebound fell at the feet of Andy Webster who will not get an easier goal as he put the rebound into the empty away net.

What a dream start for Webster, who has been out for so long his name wasn’t even listed in the programme.

And what a start for Rafferty, thrown the goalkeeper’s gloves for his first start this season in place of the ill Scott Flinders.

It could have got even worse, within 60 seconds, though thankfully Rafferty came to the rescue.

Wes Fogden was brought down in the box by an ill-conceived Christian Burgess tackle, who went to ground and brought down the midfielder.

Referee Andy D’Urso pointed to the spot. It looked all ends up becoming 2-0.

But Taylor saw his penalty saved diving low to his right by the majestic Rafferty, with Ricky Holmes off-target with the rebound.

Pools were struggling to string two passes together and looked ponderous and clueless against a vibrant home side.

Jack Barmby flashed one shot shot wide after a bit of fancy footwork but, that aside, there was little to excite the management or the 200 Pools fans.

James Poole gave the away contingent a moment of flair and frustration.

A super turn in the centre circle left Bundz N’Gala for dead and he tore forward towards goal. The football was screaming ‘hit me’ but Poole, sadly tried to play in Compton.

The midfielder was caught offside.

It summed up the first half which at least ended with a couple of Pools corners.

Compton did not emerge for the second half though it was probably a toss up between him and Barmby who came off first.

To Barmby’s credit, there was a slight improvement after the break and he was involved in one good move with Darren Holden which resulted in a corner and he put in a decent cross which eluded James.

On the subject of James, he only got one good opening in the opposition area which followed great interplay with Michael Duckworth, Poole and sub Lewis Hawkins.

It nearly came off, with Sam Collins, of all people in the danger zone, but Pompey cleared.

Nearly was the operative word in the second half for Pools.

They nearly caused Trevor Carson some work in the home goal ... they nearly found James.

Pools nearly got something as they threw the kitchen sink at Pompey during almost eight minutes of stoppage time, winning a couple of corners, a free-kick and attacking throw.

But nearly was not enough.

Colin Cooper was honest enough to say so after the match and was right to point out Pompey deserved the win. They did.

But Pools must now step up to the plate, as the saying goes.

Poor James was an isolated figure and badly needs Marlon Harewood back with him.

Poole did not see enough of the ball. Twice he made great turns to set up promising positions but they need more of that.

And they need more from Barmby and Compton. They have two of the best left feet around but they flitted between anonymity and wastefulness.

Yes, Barmby is a young fella, still in his teens, and Compton had been showing some signs of a return to his sharpest.

But both have the talent to influence where Pools finish this season. Please fellas, make it good, otherwise Pools could fall even lower. That would be a crying shame.