And there we have it; another disheartening performance that provokes little hope for the ‘project’ and confirmation of a sixth consecutive season spent in the third tier of English football.
For the 806 Portsmouth fans that travelled all the way up to Morecambe on Easter Monday and saw their beloved side held to a frustrating 1-1 draw, nothing was too different from what they’d witnessed throughout the campaign; nothing would have shocked them; and, in different circumstances, nothing would have sunk spirits to deeper depths than they’d already reached over the past seven months or so – sorry, the past five years or so.
The realisation that Pompey are actually far off looking like a ‘club on the up’ – despite all the hope instilled with the prospect of Danny Cowley’s first full campaign at the helm – has been fermenting away since the beginning of the 2021/22 season; the trip to the Mazuma Stadium, however, brought with it the helpless acceptance of that fact. A damning feeling.
Sean Raggett, who has become a cult figure among the Fratton faithful for his rugged appearance and developed stoicism at the heart of defence, did his nickname ‘Ragettino’ justice with a stunning finish to put the Blues 1-0 up at the break.
A common theme of dullness and bluntness when going forward reared its head once more for the second period, however, as Pompey’s incapability of metamorphosing promising build up play into even tangible efforts on goal was punished in heart-breaking fashion.
Morecambe, who are locked in a relegation scrap and for whom this game clearly meant more, found their deserved equaliser in the third minute of stoppage time. The Portsmouth players and staff will complain about a possible foul on budding goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu during the move but, in truth, it was utterly deserved.
As is the mediocrity of Pompey’s horrendously lacklustre mid-table finish this term – a consequence of the overwhelming inadequacy that has infected the majority of the team’s on-field performances this campaign.
What makes this even more infuriating are the glimpses of wonder that an admittedly talented group of players has annoyingly sparingly scattered along the way – a thrilling 4-0 win over play-off chasing Sunderland and a dominant 3-0 win over automatic promotion-hopefuls Rotherham (that somehow came less than a week before the drowsy 1-1 draw at relegation-threatened Morecambe) spring to mind.
And yet, with nine points left to play for in a season that can’t end too soon, the draw with the Shrimps leaves Portsmouth ten points adrift of the top six in League One – it’s the hope that kills you, anyway.
The side’s aforementioned inability of holding some sort of cutting edge up front has been an issue for a long while and, although the departure of John Marquis allowed the city of Portsmouth and surrounding areas to breathe a sigh of relief, the acquisitions of George Hirst and Tyler Walker have done little to quench the thirst for a regeneration of Guy Whittingham.
Only two sides have scored fewer goals throughout the League One season than Pompey after 43 rounds of fixtures; only two have won fewer matches.
What must be noted when ranting in this manner is that Cowley, alongside his brother Nicky, is coming to the end of just his first full season in charge of this great club.
While the Pompey boss’ main transfer target of a proven marksman wasn’t reached last summer, however, the backing he received – as evidenced by the import of several Championship-worthy players – should have yielded a more satisfactory conclusion to the season.
Most Portsmouth fans will tell you they were ecstatic to see the back of the needlessly pragmatic and inspiration-zapping Kenny Jackett last year. But there are already contingents around Fratton Park calling for the same fate for the club’s current boss.
And with the prospect of losing several big names courtesy of the club’s penchant for a loan move partnered with the failure to obtain a top-six finish this term, next season will inevitably provide a struggle to actually build on whatever foundations have been laid.
It’s not time to lose faith in the ‘project’ by any means, but Cowley faces a huge summer and few crucial subsequent months if he’s to get this sleeping giant awake.