Yesterday’s last ditch 3-2 win over Portsmouth was a triumph for faith in adversity in many ways. For a start, I was one of what I would imagine were many supporters asking where were Malky Mackay’s substitutions when we were 2-1 down and not looking like equalising, but, unusually for him, the changes didn’t come and, in the end, our manager was, once again, proved to be right – only just mind you!
It was also a triumph for the supporters who stuck with the team throughout the game and, in particular, during their rough patch either side of half time. Although I don’t think Mark Hudson did him any favours in the lead up to Pompey’s equaliser, David Marshall has to take responsibility for giving the visitors such a soft way back into a game in which they had been thoroughly outplayed until then. However, up until yesterday, Marshall has been a model of consistency this season and, off the top of my head, I cannot think of a goal you could look at and say he was definitely at fault for until Futacs’ tap in to level things up.
It was as if the home crowd as a whole felt the same way about our keeper as well, because, within seconds of the goal going in, a chorus of “Scotland’s number one” started off – great credit should go to whoever it was who started off that chant. More than that though, once Hudson had equalised, the crowd got right behind the team – unlike in some other games, I always had a feeling we could get that winning goal and, judging by the response from the stands, I don’t think I was the only one who thought that way! Ever since we moved into the new ground there have been complaints about a lack of atmosphere at games, but there was nothing whatsoever wrong with it in those last twenty minutes or so. You don’t need drums or other gimmicks to try and create something that is there already – our supporters were great yesterday and got what they deserved in the end.
That said, there are always individuals within any large group of people who spout rubbish and I can only offer thanks to the players and coaching staff for ignoring those who were imploring us to lump the ball forward in those closing stages. Against some opponents, going route one might be the way to play when we are losing or trying to win a match late on, but Portsmouth were a very big team who were well equipped to deal with such an approach – the majority of the problems we caused them during the first and last half hours of the match came from playing passing football and the side deserves great credit for sticking to that approach when the temptation must have been to whack it long.
The side showed faith in the methods which should have had them two or three goals clear before Marshall’s blunder and, eventually, it paid off. Twice Portsmouth switched off for a second or two because they thought they were going to have another long throw, in the case of Hudson’s goal or free kick into the box, as in Craig Conway’s winner to defend and twice City caught them out by acting quickly and unpredictably. Furthermore, speaking as someone who mentioned last week that we’re reaching the stage where we might start seeing signs of tiredness caused by our high tempo approach, there was certainly no sign of mental tiredness in the build up to our last two goals, while the way the side continued to pound away at the Pompey goal indicated that physical fatigue wasn’t a factor either.
In saying that though, I can remember mentioning that we should have been much more clear than just the single goal just after Darcy Blake’s amazing half the length of the pitch run and shot. We really should been at the stage where Futacs’ goal was seen in much the same light as Jobi McAnuff’s was for Reading just over three weeks ago – that is, a consolation for a side that had been thoroughly outplayed in the opening half an hour. However, the finishing that saw us blow Reading away in that first half an hour or so was not there this time - besides Blake, Kenny Miller and Joe Mason were guilty of wasting decent chances and, instead of coasting, we went in at half time feeling uneasy because Portsmouth were beginning to sense they could get something out of the match.
That feeling only intensified when more poor defending, this time from a corner, allowed Greg Halford to put the visitors ahead within minutes of the restart. From that point on though, I would say that, hardly surprisingly given their poor away record, Pompey tended to sit back and hold what they had rather than go for what could have been a killer third goal – there were opportunities there for them to do so as well, given the number of players we were pushing forward.
This takes us back to that word “faith” though – City had the faith and belief to keep on going for the win right to the end despite the possible consequences of their all out attacking approach at 2-2. Virtually every game we win sees someone saying “we wouldn’t have won that match last season” afterwards, but I think that was never more true than yesterday. So many Dave Jones sides folded after falling behind in a match they had dominated up until then (e.g. Ipswich last season), but this team has the inner resolve/faith to face up to tough breaks head on and still come out on top.
As for who played well, I thought that, the miss I mentioned apart, Kenny Miller gave a masterclass of the striker’s art in the first half (for me, he’s a better player at 32 than he was at 25), with his goal being, possibly, his best finish for us so far and Peter Whittingham again demonstrated his complete range of passing in an influential performance. However, for me, yesterday was mainly a day for the more unheralded players.
I’ve already mentioned Darcy Blake – as is usual with him, there were two or three errant passes, but, overall, I thought he gave a confident and composed performance which featured some outstanding defensive covering as we were bombing forward looking for the winner. Mark Hudson might have been culpable to some degree for the equaliser, but he had another good game in what has been a run of decent performances from our skipper and he also weighed in with that header which has made this his best season in terms of goalscoring since he joined the club.
Best player for me though was Craig Conway, not just because of his late, late winner, but for an overall display which saw a return to the form of his first couple of months at the club – he seemed more confident and the assist for Hudson’s goal offered more evidence in support of my belief that he is the best crosser of a ball at the club. So often in recent months, Conway has been the one to make way in games (that’s when he started them of course), but, yesterday our manager showed faith in a player who was beating his man in the second half and whipping in crosses and it paid off – it was a timely reminder of what Conway can give us.
* – pictures from Wales Online