If this game was a test of character the result was a pass with distinction. In it’s way it was absolutely magnificent and speaks volumes about the spirit in the dressing room. Deprived of Innis and Watson, plus confirmation of the long-term injury to Doughty, and up against a team bang in form. Faced with that challenge every player stepped up and played their part; the defensive tracking back of Williams and Washington was just as important as their contributions going forward. Nobody suggests that it was perfect, mistakes were made, and it looks like we’ve lost Famewo for a while, ending the game with a full-back and midfielder in central defence. But I think every Addick bloody loved it and tonight all concerned deserve every credit.
With changes enforced the team lined up with what looked at first like a back five in front of Amos of the returning Matthews, Gunter, Famewo, Pratley and Maatsen, but proved to be a back four Gunter in the centre and Pratley kept in midfield. He was joined there by Forster-Caskey, Shinnie and Williams, with Washington and Bogle up front, Smythe presumably taking a rest and joined on the bench by Aneke, along with a youthful midfield trio of Morgan, Vennings and Levitt, with Purrington the only obvious defensive option.
Four minutes into the game Portsmouth probably should have scored. We won the ball back inside our area but confusing between Maatsen and Amos saw their guy nip in and take the ball. From the by-line he crossed and the shot was swept over the bar. It was a chastening start, but quite frankly that was the closest Portsmouth were to come to scoring.
The early period was quite mixed apart from that chance, Pratley was given the benefit of the doubt with a challenge that might have been interpreted differently. We probed, as did Portsmouth, but nothing decisive. But that changed on 25 minutes as we took the lead, in some style. Forster-Caskey looked up and picked out Maatsen advancing into the box on the left, he managed to get to it and squared it across goal, and Williams of all people, as if he’d read the handbook his manager has been pressing on him of late, ran in to knock it into the roof of the net.
The rest of the first half was a case of almost and nearly, for both teams. No clear-cut chances were created and at the break it was pretty evenly balanced. But the fact was we’d played another 45 minutes and not conceded a goal; indeed, aside from the early mix-up we’d not given up more than half-chances, with Amos dealing well with balls in but not called on to pull off any real saves.
Portsmouth probably got a rollocking at half-time, being told to up the effort. And with them making a change we were under the cosh early on, tending to play on the break and conceding a fair amount of possession. It was telling that before the hour was up Amos was given a yellow for time-wasting (the fact that after that he wasted far more time than before, going to ground every time he gathered the ball, we will gloss over). We were conceding some free kicks around the box, fortunately they were wasted.
Maatsen picked up a yellow after losing possession going forward and on 70 minutes it was time for changes. Aneke came on for Bogle – who I thought was more effective than in previous game, although nothing fell for him in front of goal – and Smyth replaced Williams. Shortly afterwards the game got tougher for us as Famewo brought the ball out of defence, turned inside, and immediately kicked it into touch and went down clutching his thigh. It seemed a formality for him to go off, replaced by Purrington. This meant Pratley dropping back into central defence with Maatsen taking a more advanced position.
It looked as though the final 20 minutes or so would be a real struggle. But desperate closing stages were avoided, magnificently. Washington worked the ball well across their box and played it wide to Smyth, who put in a cross to hang up at the far post. It was an open invitation for a big guy to outmuscle a defender and just head it in – which is exactly what Aneke did. You had to feel slightly sorry for Bogle, getting replaced before that sort of cross came in.
That seemed to knock the stuffing out of Portsmouth and we played out the final period reasonably comfortable, to the extent that Portsmouth were reduced to a nasty, frustrated kick out around the corner flag as we were wasting time, one which went unpunished. Five minutes of stoppage time and all we were concerned with was not losing the clean sheet record. Which we did.
I’m not going to give player ratings. A blanket 10 is deserved, including the subs. It wasn’t a game where you analyse individual performances and highlight some errors. It was one to celebrate what a team of committed individuals can do. I hope they are all enjoying it tonight, I know I am. Besides, deciding on ratings would take time and there's a large glass of red to be consumed.