Hart and Soul
LATE heroics from Peter Hartley handed Argyle a 1-0 victory in the play-off semi-final second leg...
...as Derek Adams' side responded from previous late heartbreak to book a place in the final.
With nothing to separate the Greens and Pompey after the first leg (or over the entire season, with a 5-5 aggregate score-line over their three meetings), it was always going to be the odd goal that settled the tie. Not many, though, could have imagined just how dramatic the goal that gave Argyle the victory would be, coming after Derek's side took more and more control of the match as it went on.
"I thought we started the game very well with Graham Carey having that first shot early in the game, and then it became a nervy affair tonight," said Adams. "I thought that 1-0 was going to win the match - I didn't think it would be a high-scoring game.
"Obviously we hit the post, then we had a couple of chances over the bar and near-misses. Then it got nearer to the end of the game and you get a bit worried that Portsmouth might nick one at the other end, or it could've gone to extra time. I think it got to that stage in the game where it looked like it was going to go to extra time.
"But the players are always believing, and that's something we've drilled into them. They've got very good energy levels. They started off the season on the running track and it's prepared them well for the end of the season."
That stamina and belief gave Argyle one final chance in injury time, as Graham Carey floated in another dangerous corner. At the back post stood Peter Hartley, who rose above his marker Enda Stevens and headed in from close range, lifting the metaphorical roof off of Home Park.
"To score in the way we did, it's been very good for us," said Derek, "because we've had hard times away to Exeter, away to Accrington, and if we hadn't lost these two games we would've had automatic promotion.
"It was a great ball in from Graham Carey and a great header at the back post. We're always difficult to deal with from set plays because of our height and delivery, and tonight was no different."
The Hartley header was the final, incredible act in a semi-final that has produced its fair share of flash points and flared tempers, but with the tie finally settled, there was plenty of respect shown between the two camps.
"I've got to say to Paul Cook as well: he was man enough to come in and speak to our players after the game and wish them all the best," said Derek, "and so was their chairman and backroom staff. Not an easy thing to do after you've been defeated, but I'm very grateful for them to do that.
"Listen: managers, players, we all have our battles but it's over the 90 minutes in a game. We try to do the best for our football club, and after it finishes, it finishes. We have to get on with it, shake hands and walk away. That's what we do."