Well that was that then.
After a long and highly anticipated wait the now ridiculously pre-titled “El Clasicoast” left much to be desired on the pitch.
But the atmosphere and for want of a better word “banter” off the pitch, coupled with a successful (I know it was frustrating for many) police operation made it still the most nerve wracking and tense game of the season without making the usual violent headlines.
It is of course sod’s law that having prided ourselves on the pretty and effective football we play all season, that with the country watching live on BBC1, we were 50% responsible for one of the scrappiest and least pretty games of football you will ever see. It isn’t uncommon for derby games to be lacking in quality, no one wants to lose these games, so often style is replaced by substance, and nothing could be truer about this game.
The atmosphere was as expected. Electric. Both sets of fans coming through loud and clear on the television coverage (I was, after failed attempts at getting press access on the edge of my living room seat). Pompey pride themselves on their support, and I would never argue that when they are in full flow they are very loud, but equally the travelling Saints support were making themselves heard.
It is difficult to describe the feelings that you go through watching such a match. No matter how confident you are that you are supporting the “better” team, as is so often the case, derbies pay little respect to either the league table or the formbook, and frankly after our last two derby experiences and the recent turn in form for both clubs I was more than a little apprehensive.
Michael Appleton, who I personally thought was a very intelligent appointment for Pompey at the time got his tactics spot on. Saints were reverted very early to playing a rushed and less precise game than they are used to. While the Pompey fans I know were disappointed to see only one up front, their packed midfield did a good job of stifling Saints creativity and George Thorne particularly impressed.
I think if he was honest, Appleton’s gameplan was to secure a point, with anything else a bonus. If you take the derby emotions out of it, it is a league game, and a point off of the league leaders and extending the unbeaten revival is nothing to scoff at.
When Saints did play some football though, the reasons for the gap in league position became clear. Lallana in particular showing his ability on the ball as he helped himself to a portion of roasted skate on the wing, but in reality both sides rarely looked like troubling the keepers.
As the cameras panned the Fratton End, I was briefly worried that the wife had sneakily flicked over to “Big Fat Gypsy Weddings” and as both sides resorted to sending the ball long at every given opportunity, the legend that was the South Coast derby was being created in the stands.
In the second half I felt we started to edge the game, unlocking the Pompey back four more often, though still not as often as we would like, and it was almost inevitable that the man with more goals than all the other forwards on the pitch put together would be the one to bring the game as a spectacle alive. Rickie Lambert’s header past the stationary Henderson from Fox’s perfectly weighted free kick was satisfying to say the least. Not only did it make this grown man jump around his own living room screaming and fist pumping, with only a bemused wife and petrified cat looking on, but perhaps even more pleasurable was the ensuing twenty one minutes of silence from the home crowd.
Did anybodies nerves settle when Lambert notched his second derby goal in as many games? No of course not, in fact part of me was sure it was setting us up for a fall, but the next period actually saw Saints as in control as anybody could be in such a game, in fact Guly should have sealed it, Henderson making up for his earlier static goalkeeping to deny him bravely.
This period of control meant that Pompey’s equaliser was even more of a sickener. Saints lacklustre defending at the eighty fourth minute corner meant that the ball dropped between a Brazilian forward and a local boy in front of the Fratton end. Desire won the moment and the spoils would be shared.
A draw was probably the fairest result. Neither team covered themselves in glory in terms of how they played, with some stand out performers being Lallana, Hooiveld and Lambert for Saints and Thorne, Mattock and Rocha for Pompey. Both teams will play much better than that and neither will play much worse, but most importantly the spirit of the derby was as fierce as ever without the need for violence. An honourable mention should go to Mark Halsey too, so often criticised it is a nice change to highlight a highly accomplished refereeing performance, on the other hand it also highlighted how bad some of the usual Football League officials are in comparison to this Premier League man.
I love the South Coast derby. I know I am biased but you don’t see the vitriol in any other derby in this country that you do in this one. For that ninety minutes the healthy rivalry of people from two nearby cities turns to unbridled hatred. I have friends who are Pompey fans, but during this game I don’t want to be in their presence. Before and after? Fine. I like to think I can take and dish out the required level of “banter” off the back of victory or defeat and come Monday I think no more or less of them than I did before. Nobody is perfect, some of them were even inflicted by support of Pompey from their parents, not choice. A sad tale in itself. It seems crazy that in our recent outings against Bournemouth and Brighton people had even dared suggest that they were derby games. Not even close.
Saints and Pompey. Scummers and Skates. Cats and Dogs. Tories and Labourites. Yin and Yang. Capulets and Montagues……
I leave you with two messages. Have a Happy Christmas, and please don’t die. We need this.
Roll on April…..