Cheltenham 1 Portsmouth 0: Neil Allen’s verdict – No slice of luck as angry loyal travelers deliver powerful message after Whaddon Road debacle

Indeed, Ken Dodd’s uplifting and infectious rendition of ‘Happiness’ is deployed in every Whaddon Road home triumph, regardless of the opponent or the size of the accomplishment.

Not that the Blues have been privy to such a tradition on four previous visits, having emerged unscathed each time, tallying one away win and three draws.

Still, Saturday’s 1-0 loss marked the unexpected entry of Knotty Ash’s best.

Register to our Portsmouth FC newsletter

The newsletter mute the noise

With poignant lyrics such as “I have no money and I have no gold” and “Don’t count my money, count my happiness”, there was a certain irony for those in the persuasion of Pumped.

Not that the 1,425 people who crowded the visitors’ section were in the mood to dissect Dodd’s words, instead many took out their anger on the players, management and owners after an abject performance.

Disillusionment with Tornante’s transfer policy and desire for self-sufficiency have intensified considerably of late, with a sixth consecutive Ligue 1 campaign sapping morale on the horizon.

The truth is that Danny Cowley is currently operating on Pompey’s highest playing budget since they last held the Championship ten years ago.

Pompey’s players are stunned after Liam Sercombe netted the game winner in the 76th minute in Saturday’s sad 1-0 defeat at Cheltenham. Photo: Jason Brown/ProSportsImages

Nevertheless, the continued financial prudence of their owners and the designation of funds to finally strengthen the club’s infrastructure, particularly Fratton Park, failed to rally results on the pitch.

Pompey is left behind in what will likely be his lowest result since returning to Ligue 1.

Ironically, their last League Two game was against Cheltenham when, in May 2017, a 6-1 success at Fratton Park secured the title amid emotional scenes, while also marking the end of fan ownership in favor of the impending takeover of Tornante.

Almost five years later and, for the first time in Football League history, after eight previous meetings, the Robins emerged victorious, much to the visitors’ embarrassment.

You could forgive the final whistle scenes centering on the players whose lackluster performance led to a 1-0 defeat, with Tyler Walker parading the biggest target on his back.

For the brilliance of Gavin Bazunu and the indisputable qualities of the flourishing Hayden Carter, at the opposite end of the loan spectrum is the hapless man from Coventry who played a trick on a possible permanent change.

Walker received his 15th outing from Pompey on Saturday, but remains on just one goal, as his limp continues to infuriate and agonize, with Whaddon Road a particular low during his underwhelming presence.

At one point shortly before the hour mark, the former Nottingham Forest striker headed for a loose ball outside the penalty area with such alarming listlessness that a Cheltenham body popped out of nowhere to snatch it from him.

This then launched a home attack which ended with Ryan Tunnicliffe blocking Matty Blair’s right-footed shot with his back, while positioned inside Pompey’s penalty area.

Granted, a guilt-ridden Walker initially gave chase after admitting his mistake, while the visitors’ goal remained intact. Nevertheless, the damage had been done, especially for his plummeting reputation.

Read more

Read more

For the latest Pompey news straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletter

Either way, the 25-year-old stayed on the pitch for the duration of the match, but surely Cowley’s perseverance and patience must have run out.

It was a January transfer bet that effectively saw two playing salaries allocated on his arrival from the Championship, following the mantra of quality over quantity. He clearly hasn’t left.

Let’s not scapegoat Walker, however, as he rarely had the goalscoring opportunities to show off a finishing prowess that has shone at other clubs.

There were no mind-boggling misfires that accompanied John Marquis’ game, as evidenced against Plymouth and at Charlton this season.

Pompey’s problems in the final third have been evident all season, a glaring shortcoming influenced by the erratic and inconsistent nature of Marcus Harness and the remarkable demise of Ronan Curtis.

Harness remains the Blues’ top scorer but, tellingly, shouldn’t expect a single hand in the Player of the Season vote. Given his natural talent and brilliance in the first half of the campaign, it’s a sad – but deserved – accusation.

As for Curtis, after his meteoric break into the first team in 2018 and opening two flourishing seasons, it is worrying that he has failed to develop further in the past two campaigns.

Unfortunately, his game more than most of his teammates was impacted by Cowley’s introduction of the rear wing system – and it’s now a painful watch.

At Cheltenham, the Irishman had been recalled in place of Michael Jacobs as part of one of five changes, perhaps understandable given Cowley’s concerns over his talisman playing twice in four days after a recent return from wound.

Still, it was another poor performance from Curtis who, along with Harness, couldn’t create the offensive spark the Blues so desperately needed against a Robins side with Cowley’s target Will Boyle in defense.

And in Walker, there’s a player who needs ammo and a gun placed in their hand, rather than the challenge of feeding themselves.

Pompey scored 24 goals in nine appearances during a productive spell from late January but has since netted one in five. Sean Raggett’s post-match assertion that it’s been a “hectic season” is well placed.

Cowley’s men have the third-best defensive record in League One – and are the worst scorers in the top 12.

Indeed, Bazunu was their star at Whaddon Road, with some fine saves, keeping a tally that could have been even bigger. No mistake, it wasn’t an undeserved defeat.

Certainly there was the controversial moment of the first half when Boyle’s challenge from behind on Aiden O’Brien prevented him from scoring in an empty net and prompted penalty calls, with a corner at the square.

Otherwise, goalkeeper Owen Evans was little tested, with the visitors once again failing to capitalize on decent positions in the final third either through an assist or a shot.

In the end, Cheltenham grabbed a 76th-minute winner after a period of sustained pressure, with that man Liam Sercombe as the inevitable goalscorer.

After scoring against Pompey for Bristol Rovers, Exeter and Cheltenham, he did it again, finishing off Callum Wright’s excellent pass as Bazunu was finally beaten.

The traveling support, who had previously booed the decision to replace O’Brien, exceptionally turned against his team late in the game, underscoring the strength of the current sentiment.

Among their chants was one declaring Pompey would be in Ligue 1 forever. No matter Ken Dodd’s insistence, there’s no happiness to be had from this.

A message from the editor, Mark Waldron

You can support our local team of expert Pompey writers by subscribing here for all the latest Fratton Park news for 21 hours a day, thanks to our 30% transfer window offer.