Fratton Faithful Season Review 2016/2017: March

Last updated : 11 June 2017 By Jim Bonner

Paul Cook and his team were on the cusp of breaking into the automatic promotion places having been denied by Morecambe at the end of February.

Fellow promotion contenders Plymouth and Carlisle were playing each other when Pompey took on struggling Crewe. Everyone believed that the first weekend in March would be the time when Portsmouth finally claimed third place in League Two.

How wrong we all were.

The players simply thought they could turn up and beat a team who had been thrashed by Hartlepool a few days prior but Crewe had other ideas and came to Fratton Park with a gameplan that worked perfectly.

A pathetic Pompey performance meant George Ray's header late in the game was enough to earn the Railwaymen the victory they deserved. The goal was met with derision and the final whistle was greeted with loud boos and cries of "What the fucking hell was that!?" as the deflated players trudged off the Fratton Park turf having delievered their worst performance under Paul Cook.

Highlights: League Two Matchday 35: Portsmouth 0 Crewe Alexandra 1

That defeat would be the last one Pompey would suffer at home but back then, the supporters were seriously questioning Paul Cook more than they had ever done in the two years he had been at the club.

The players had to give a reaction for the rearranged match at Crawley the following Tuesday night where a win would yet take the Blues into the top three.

An improved showing wasn't enough to break the deadlock but the events that followed a foul on Enda Stevens in the box during the second half of the match would be the moments which turned Portsmouth's season around.

Eoin Doyle stepped up to take the penalty and it was saved with the ball going behind for a corner. Before the fans could voice their frustrations, however, Christian Burgess headed in the most important goal of Pompey's season and all of a sudden the mood amongst the Pompey fans changed.

The "We're on our way" song was born as the jubilant travelling fans celebrated a second goal when Kyle Bennett lashed the ball home from outside the box.

The result meant that Pompey moved into the automatic promotion place for the first time since September, pushing a freefalling Carlisle into the play-offs. The lads had bounced back from their atrocious showing against Crewe and the race for automatic promotion was well and truly on.

Highlights: League Two Matchday 27 Postponement: Crawley Town 0 Portsmouth 2

Next up was what was supposed to be one of Pompey's toughest tests of the season as they made the trip to Colchester who had the second-best home record in the division.

The U's had been ravaged by injuries but nobody could have predicted what was to happen in Essex. Eoin Doyle headed the visitors into an early lead as Pompey took total control of the match.

The second half began with Bennett bagging his second successive goal and the floodgates opened with Danny Rose striking the ball home at the second attempt for the third goal.

Michael Doyle then got in on the act as he finished a swift counter-attack from a Colchester corner to complete the drubbing. This result was the one which had the jubilant Pompey fans finally believing that their team would finish in the top three.

Highlights: League Two Matchday 36: Colchester United 0 Portsmouth 4

With just ten matches remaining, Pompey returned to Fratton Park for the first time since their woeful result against Crewe to prove that they could replicate their last two performances on the road on home soil.

Bennett got his side off to the best possible start as his third goal in three games via deflection gave the Blues the lead. Rose then tried his luck and the ball found the back of the net with the aid of another deflection to double the lead.

It seemed like Pompey's luck was turning and the Mariners conceded before the break again when Carl Baker started and finished an incisive move to cut open the visitors' defence.

Naismith pounced on a goalkeeping error right after the restart in the second half to confirm another thrashing dished out by Portsmouth as their grip on the automatic promotion places tightened.

Highlights: League Two Matchday 37: Portsmouth 4 Grimsby Town 0

The only bad news to come from that match was the injuries to Bennett and Naismith who had been on fire in the last three games. Up next was a trip to Stevenage who had put together an extremely impressive run of results which saw them surge into the play-off places.

A win against Boro would have seen Pompey take an unassailable lead over them in the table but unfortunately that wasn't to be the case as Paul Cook opted to play a 3-5-2 system and it backfired spectacularly.

Despite hitting the woodwork twice, Pompey fell behind when a speculative long shot from Stevenage was saved by David Forde only for Jack King to head in the rebound. Some woeful defending allowed Matt Godden to double the hosts' lead when he fired home an angled drive from a long ball into the box.

Jobi McAnuff scored a third goal straight after the restart as once again Forde's save resulted in a loose ball being tucked away. To add insult to injury, Christian Burgess was harshly dismissed for a second yellow card and then Conor Chaplin's woeful attempt at a Panenka penalty late on was easily saved as Pompey tasted defeat for the final time this season.

Highlights: League Two Matchday 38: Stevenage 3 Portsmouth 0

Despite that defeat, the fans' spirits weren't broken as most accepted it was just one of those days and their team was still in a strong position with Carlisle and Luton below them failing to make up ground.

But the supporters were about to be stunned as news broke out that American billionaire and former Disney C.E.O Michael Eisner was formally interested in buying the club having already spoken to Mark Catlin about a potential takeover.

This sparked a massive debate amongst the Pompey fans regardless of whether they had a stake in the club or not. Eisner would be invited to present a formal bid to the Trust and have fans vote on it during the following month.

In the meantime, there was still a promotion for Portsmouth to win and up next was the visit of Newport to Fratton Park with the Welsh side fighting for their lives having looked doomed to relegation just a few weeks prior.

Buoyed by the return of Bennett and Naismith, the returning duo got on the scoresheet again with the former collecting an excellent through-ball from Baker before slotting the ball home.

Some quality build up play then led to Naismith heading in a second goal and what should have been an easy victory. However, Alex Samuel got one back and Pompey fans were forced to endure a nervous end to the match with Forde making a couple of excellent saves to preserve an important three points for Pompey.

Match Highlights: League Two Matchday 39: Portsmouth 2 Newport County 1

That result meant there were six points between Portsmouth and the chasing pack in the play-off positions with Pompey having a far superior goal difference to boot.

A few more wins were required to see Paul Cook's men over the line and the fans were beginning to get excited over the prospect of promotion as well as the possibility of an extremely rich owner possibly buying the club in the future.

The 2016/2017 was about to enter its dramatic conclusion when April arrived.