In The Navy

I’m confused, and not in a Village People-esque way either.

After HMS Victory 1 Belgrano 2 last night, I’ve had to look up the rules of the League Cup to confirm that there is something called the “second round”. I bet I wasn’t alone.

As it turns out, there isn’t a law saying we aren’t allowed to ever win a game in this competition. We’re just crap in it – to the point I think we’re the only club ever to get knocked out of this tournament in July.

It’s going to be weird when the draw is made on Thursday and we’re still in it. A trip to the Olymp… sorry, London Stadium could be upon us. Or the Amex. Or Reading, or Watford, or yes – even Selhurst.

Of course, these things always end up being the dampest of damp squibs, so it will be Franchise. Away.

But we can still dream – after all, this season has gone a bit weird already. It’s already surpassed 90% of 2017/18 and we saw at Fratton Park something that has been missing for a good, long while.

Character.

Lots and lots of it as well, especially when we went 1-0 down and thought that was that. But given the way we came close almost two minutes after conceding, it had the potential to be one of those nights after all.

Assuming you haven’t been region-blocked, you can watch the highlights here. Done that? Good, I may ask questions later.

First things first, our quality up front is going to be our biggest issue this season. We’re getting the balls into the box, and actually creating chances, but our accuracy is on a par with a Franchise fan talking about AFCW.

Second things second, we got to see what many have wanted in well over a season-and-a-bit. Having a fucking go. And if we hadn’t got through last night, we could have consoled ourselves that we gave it a shot but it just wouldn’t happen.

We wanted more than that, of course, and we got it when a cross to the Pig was floated in and he was finally able to fire it home. And boy, did I like the celebration afterwards.

Or rather, lack of it. That was a “we mean business” attitude, unless it was a “we don’t want penalties” one instead. Whatever it was, we put our foot on the gas a little bit more.

All right, Pompey came back at us a bit as well, although if they had scored I think we might have gone straight for the jugular ourselves again.

And yes, it was nice to write that last sentence.

Not nearly as good as describing the winner, mind you, which should justify so many comments made last season. Get it in the mixer, force the opposition to make mistakes, and you can get a lot of joy as a result.

Anton Walkes is the new Noel Blake. And yes, footage of THAT own goal at Plough Lane (not the one in the FAC where we won 4-0, the other one) exists. Scroll forward to 1m20.

In 2018 though, our new Pompey goalscoring hero did quite a decent finish off his knee – if one of our forwards did that I might have been a bit impressed.

The game was won by then, even the four minutes of injury time didn’t seem that bad. And like the celebrations post-Fleetwood, this current squad feels like a unit rather than a bunch of sulky teenagers.

More on that later. But yes – we are in the second round of the Carabao Cup for the first time as AFCW. The various tickers you read this morning happily state that fact, and I’m glad that monkey is finally off our back.

If it was a league game, we’d be buzzing at what a good start we’ve made. But even this morning feels good…

Plus points: We won. Reached the second round of the League Cup. Wagstaff. Piggy. Coming back. Never-say-die attitude.

Minus points: Their goal. Our finishing in the first half.

The referee’s a…: The cheer our fans gave when the linesman gave a throw-in to us late on tells its own story.

Them: They’re fifth in the L1 table at the moment, and obviously you can’t quite judge on the first round of a cup competition, but I would have felt hard-done by if we’d gone out last night.

They were still dangerous at times, though, and as said previously, we did think that their opening goal would be the winner.

I was a paying punter at Pompey (and try saying that without your teeth in) for the first time since about 2002, and it’s reassuring how Fratton Park has barely changed. All that’s different is the roof on the usual away end.

Being shunted to the side proved what kind of attendance they were expecting, although £10 to get in was more than reasonable. No turnstile operators for the scanner machines either.

That said, here was no way there was only 260 odd of us there. The Met had a much more realistic figure (and photographic evidence to boot). It’s not like Portsmouth to be unable to count figures…

Point to ponder: Could we be on the verge of something quite decent?

I’m not talking about somehow getting to the Championship, because although we’ve got more strength in depth I don’t think we have the all-round quality for that.

But maybe a campaign where we notch up some impressive results against some highly fancied teams?

When we equalised last night, it was hard not to sense there’s something different this time round. It’s a mixture of hard work, a welcome dose of pragmatism and players who aren’t being used as round pins for square holes.

It’s not pretty, some of last night was the footballing equivalent of a 1960s tower block, but that definitely doesn’t matter. Simply put – we’re tougher.

We may come a cropper on Saturday, in fact we probably will (and against Sunderland the following Saturday too), but already we don’t seem as brittle as we were.

Apologies for yet another comparison to 17/18, but from even the few games I attended we were slow to move and didn’t seem to have much character or identity as a squad.

This time round, that’s not the case. We’re a helluva lot more mobile, which helps immensely, and we wouldn’t have got a win from this type of game a year ago.

Yeah, it’s a bit basic at times, but so what? We’re not, and never will be some sophisticated boutique shop of a club, like I think we were trying (and failing) to be last season.

We’re a Lidl type outfit, if you want to do a retail analogy – best at doing the ordinary stuff, not nearly so good when it tries to be fancy. We don’t need to be downmarket, or as the Americans would say, be like a mom-and-pop store.

But as SW19 has said a couple of times in the past, we’re at our best as a club/team when we’re pragmatic. And we’re clearly happier when we do exactly that…

Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) A real life, actual bat flapping its wings around the away section once or twice last night. There’s a joke about midfielders here but I won’t make it. 2) “You probably nicked it from a cow” – us to the bell with the bell. 3) Speaking of songs – what’s the one with the line of “From Franchise to the FA”? Never heard it before, but some were joining in with it.

Anything else? Somebody really didn’t like our opponents last night.

Actually, there were a few anti-Pompey chants yesterday, although if you’re confused why – they came from people who were around in the 1980s. And while driving up the A3 northbound after the game (which had no holdups, amazingly), it makes a bit of sense.

OK, Pompey haven’t endeared themselves over their, ahem, laissez faire approach to paying their bills. And I don’t hate them, though I prefer a lot of other clubs ahead of them.

I’m not going to attack them for trying the supporter-owned route and quickly abandoning it. This probably won’t go down well with some of our fans, but that ownership model was unworkable for them – as it would be for the majority of clubs in professional football.

But even so, there’s still a strong dislike amongst some of our older fans for them.

Back then, they always seemed to look down on us a fair bit. Not like now, of course. Even if Fratton Park was, and still is, a bigger version of old Plough Lane.

There was always the local aspect anyway, one just has to look at the Wandle End in the link above, but there was that bit of needle that never existed against, say, Palace or Brighton.

From memory, a fair bit of that came from Alan Ball, a World Cup winner and squeaky voiced ginger cunt. Those of a certain vintage will remember the disdain the “traditional” football types had for us anyway, and he was one of the biggest.

It went in the rubbish bin many, many years ago, but there was a (ghostwritten?) interview by one of their players who claimed he went into our dressing room at PL after a Pompey win and said “Here ends the first lesson”.

There’s an analysis of that article either in an old Dons Outlook or Grapevine, but IIRC it got so many basic facts in it wrong that I question whether it ever happened. Even so, it fed into the mutual dislike narrative back then.

Lest we forget Fash’s debut at Fratton Park. A couple of Portsmouth defenders still haven’t. And even as a young lad, beating them 4-0 in the FAC (with Mr Blake once again) had more satisfaction than many.

A quick mention of how friendly their stewards were last night. In contrast to the meatheads in January 2001, who hopefully got forced to fight ISIS as punishment. Let’s see how tough they were when they weren’t facing innocent Dons fans.

It’s nowhere near the same now, as the fortunes (?) of the two clubs have been both different and remarkably similar at the same time. And any current dislike is just standard football rivalry, similar to many other clubs who were in the Prem a decade ago.

And yes, perhaps there’s a continued little bit of condescension** as well.

** – not the only time we’ve faced it in the AFCW era. This has reminded me of some very dismissive comments BBC Radio Cambridgeshire made about us when we played Cambridge United in the Conference. You remember them. Don’t you?

So if you were confused at the “We hate Pompey” chants by a few last night, don’t be. Some people merely have very long memories…

So, was it worth it? Reaching the holy grail that is the League Cup second round? Medals have been awarded for less.

In a nutshell: Watch us get Newport County.