Portsmouth fans were left incensed yesterday after seeing their side reduced to ten men in a crucial League One encounter.
Looking to bounce back from a 4-0 hammering at the weekend, Pompey welcomed Lincoln City to Fratton Park. The Imps hadn’t won there since 1977 and had lost all three of their encounters under current boss Michael Appleton. Instead of rolling over, the visitors arguably had the best of the opening 30 minutes, until the game apparently turned on a big decision.
Jack Whatmough, who scored two own goals against Hull, leapt into a challenge with Jorge Grant in the middle of the park, and seemingly won the ball. The ferocity of the challenge left Grant in a heap, but on first glance, it seemed fair. Referee Sam Purkiss didn’t agree, and after a moment contemplation, he dismissed Whatmough. Replays certainly suggest that the defender left the ground with both feet before making contact with the ball, and therein lies the problem of appealing the decision. For a moment, Whatmough was out of control, off the ground and lunging in – how he landed is completely irrelevant and that is what the referee saw. An appeal must present a case for a blatant miscarriage of justice and in this instance, there wasn’t one. Therefore, the planned appeal is surely a waste of everyone’s time and effort.
It may be Pompey feel aggrieved at other moments too, a handball from a free-kick might have resulted in a penalty, and they claim Ronan Curtis had a late header cleared off the line that was actually over the line. How ironic that Pompey’s main threat in the air was Sean Raggett, a player made famous by having a header cleared off the line in a game in which technology could tell it was over – whilst playing for Lincoln.
The harsh truth that Pompey fans may not like is this – up until the 30th minute the visitors had been the better side, and the red card forced Lincoln into a rethink just as much as it did Kenny Jackett’s side. The card didn’t change the game, it might have diminished the home side’s chances of winning it, but it wasn’t a moment which immediately changed the balance of play. Lincoln had looked dangerous on the break, they already had more shots than Pompey and were looking good for at least a point.
Sadly, the card showed a side of Portsmouth that some of their fans might be happy to admit to, but others will not. There is a mentality there so fragile that it only takes a goal or a card to break it. Kenny Jackett’s spell in charge has not always been popular and his frailties as a manager are clear and evident. The question isn’t why was Whatmough sent off, but what could have been done afterwards? Why did Tom Naylor stay at centre half for 15 minutes before Jackett made the change? Why was the gameplan to simply sit back and defend, when the final 15 minutes proved that ten men could cause the visitors problems?
The worry now is another Pompey spiral, just as they have seen before. In 2018/19, their 1-0 home defeat against Blackpool started a run 11 games with just a solitary win in the EFL Trophy to show for their endeavour. Last season, one win in seven at the start of the season left them playing catch-up, whilst in his first season, just three wins in 12 after New Year saw them abandon all hopes of a play-off spot. The big question is can Jackett arrest that slide this season, turning their fortunes around sufficiently so that these back-to-back defeats do not become yet another collapse that spells yet another season in League One?