Gorman 45, Cowan-Hall 85, Chadwick 87
by RICK COWDERY
THE Pilgrims eased into the second round of the Capital One Cup with a sometimes nervy victory in the 91st resumption of the Dockyard Derby, although this was a game in which there were no losers.
Impoverished Portsmouth fielded a team so young that the likes of Darren Purse and Paul Wotton must have felt like the child-catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Their triumph was simply finding 14 men able and proud to wear to Blue.
The fact that they matched their senior hosts for long periods – of the second half, especially – was a huge credit to themselves and their manager.
A goal in the final minute of the first half from Northern Ireland international Johnny Gorman, making the first competitive club start of his career, set the Pilgrims on their way.
Late strikes from substitute Paris Cowan-Hall and Nick Chadwick exacerbated the difference between two sides that actually had much in common.
It was certainly a poignant match-up from the Pilgrims’ point of view. A year earlier, they had been in Portsmouth’s boots, facing a future that was at best, uncertain, and, at worst, bleak.
Sympathy only extends so far, though, and the men of the Guz duly triumphed over Pompey’s callow youths to remain in the League Cup competition beyond the first stage for only the third time since 1992.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher’s pre-season plans were given a jolt before the game when new striker Rhys Griffiths failed to pass muster because of an injury.
Griffiths’ poison was meat to Chadwick, who came into a starting 11 that showed only one other change to that which had lined up in the Pilgrims’ final pre-season game against Preston the previous week.
That was in central midfield, where, with the emphasis apparently on width and attack, Luke Young was omitted in favour of a holding midfielder, another local man at the opposite end of his Greens’ career, Wotton.
The identity of the 14 players that made up Portsmouth’s squad – they could find only three substitutes – would have tested even the most ardent of Pompey followers. Barely household names in their own house.
Their starting 11 included just two players with previous first-team experience for the club, defender Adam Webster and striker Ashley Harris; a goalkeeper signed on non-contact terms the day previously, Simon Eastwood; and 35-year-old first-team coach Ashley Westwood, a recent appointment which surely shows that, whatever else Portsmouth may be, they remain optimistic.
Argyle eased their way into the game against opponents who looked every inch the ingénues. Gorman and Matt Lecointe, hardly much older than their opponents but already hardened by valuable match experience, were to the fore.
Eastwood , who had begun dodgily by letting a routine Gorman pot-shot slither through his grasp, kept his young side in the contest with a marvellous fingertip save from Lecointe’s powerful close-range volley.
Portsmouth’s first shot came midway through a first half in which the blue-shirted youngsters grew in confidence, with Harris firing the ball across Jake Cole’s goal following some imprecise defending from Onismor Bhasera.
Lecointe saw a close-range stab blocked on the goal-line before Bhasera and Gorman combined to set up another chance for Argyle’s Under-18 England international that needed a do-or-die tackle from Dan Butler to prevent a goal.
As the rain tipped down from bleak skies, so Portsmouth’s misery deepened. Westwood limped off to be replaced by Jack Maloney, which meant the 10 outfielders on the pitch could boast just eight career first-team appearances between them.
Still they held on, though, helped sometimes by Argyle’s profligacy with their huge amount of possession and the low tempo of the game.
Gorman had always looked the man most likely to unhinge the stubborn resistance, and so it proved just as it looked as if Pompey would reach base-camp of having kept a first-half clean-sheet.
Wotton played Gorman in on the left with a neat pass that wrong-footed the Portsmouth defence, but the straw-haired winger still had plenty to do, and he found plenty – a thrashed left-foot shot that gave Eastwood no opportunity to repeat his earlier heroics.
Argyle resumed after the break with Joe Lennox having replaced Andres Gurrieri but it was Portsmouth who began the second 45 much more brightly.
Substitute Maloney had already threatened from the left when he forced Cole into his first save of the game, a tumbling tip over his crossbar in front of the 750-strong Blue Army.
The Pilgrims struggled regain a foothold in the game, apparently reverting to their what-we-have-we-hold habit of last season.
They had a chance to put clear air between them and their opponents after Wotton nipped a pass to Conor Hourihane. The Irishman slipped in Chadwick, who deftly lifted the ball over Eastwood but could not keep it on target.
Portsmouth kept at it and right-back Webster came within a foot of equalising when he scudded a long-range shot across Cole and only narrowly wide of the post.
Webster defensive prowess came to the fore as Argyle responded but were denied in a goalmouth scramble in which Chadwick and Hourihane both had efforts blocked.
From the resulting corner, Max Blanchard headed Hourihane’s delivery to Cowan-Hall, who flicked the ball home to ensure the Pilgrims’ first win in the Battle of the Ports for 20 years.
The evening was completed when Chadwick smashed Lennox’s cross past Eastwood two minutes later.
Good luck, Pompey. We share your pain.
Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Jake Cole; 17 Curtis 5 Darren Purse, 4 Maxime Blanchard, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 27 Andes Gurrieri (Joe Lennox half-time), 15 Paul Wotton, 6 Conor Hourihane, 28 Johnny Gorman (8 Luke Young 74); 21 Matt Lecointe (7 Paris Cowan-Hall 79), 9 Nick Chadwick. Substitutes (not used): 3 Robbie Williams, 11 Warren Feeney, 18 Ladjie Soukouna, 20 Rene Gilmartin (gk).
Booked: Cowan-Hall 83.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): 13 Simon Eastwood (capt); 22 Adam Webster, 40 Ashley Westwood (31 Jack Maloney 37), 38 Alex Grant, 34 Dan Butler; 35 Jed Wallace, 33 Sam Magri, 37 George Colson, 39 Alex Higgins (32 Bradley Tarbuck 72); 36 Dan Thompson, 21 Ashley Harris. Substitutes (not used): 30 Jack Whatmaugh.
Referee: Brendan Malone.
Attendance: 5,318 (753 away).