That’s how the game felt for me though – we got the job done in a professional and competent manner just as you would expect a team with serious designs on automatic promotion to do against mid table opposition with nothing to play for. In doing this, we have taken our run of consecutive wins over sides we should be beating to four, but it’s when you see how some of our rivals are faring against “sides they should be beating” that you realise it’s not quite as easy to do as it may appear on paper.
In saying that, I have to record that yesterday’s match was one of those in which virtually every decision seemed to go our way. Portsmouth manager Steve Cotterill revealed a tinge of paranoia after the match when he hinted at conspiracies against his team in the past month or so because he claimed that they had been given absolutely nothing by match officials during that time. Now, I cannot comment on other games, but I think any manager would be having a moan if his side had been on the wrong end of so many decisions like Cotterill’s was yesterday – I’ve got to admit that my opinion of referee Wright was closer to his than Dave Jones’ as our manager talked about how good the official had been.
Most of the post match talk centred on the nineteenth minute dismissal of Portsmouth defender Ricardo Rocha who was bleeding from the head as he left the pitch for an alleged butt on Jay Bothroyd. With the incident happening at the other end of the pitch, it was hard to tell what had happened, but, having now seen television pictures of the skirmish between the two players, I must say that I tend to agree with what Steve Claridge said on the Football League show – either both players should have walked or neither of them should have. When you also consider that our second goal might have been disallowed on another day for a foul by Dekel Keinnan in the scramble that preceded Bothroyd’s tap in and that Portsmouth hands went up for offside in the build up to our third goal (Bellamy looked on side to me mind), then I think it’s fair to say that I can understand why our visitors felt they had been hard done by.
Having got the negative aspects of yesterday out of the way, it has to be said that there was much to admire about City’s performance – Dave Jones singled out Kevin McNaughton and Seyi Olofinjana for deserved praise after the game (Olofinjana has won me around completely in the last couple of months or so) and I would add Paul Quinn to those for another performance which showed that, rather like Darcy Blake in the second half of last season, he has come from absolutely nowhere to become an imposrtant cog in what City are trying to achieve.
Dave Jones mentioned those two players in response to a question about Craig Bellamy’s performance and, for me, our captain was an obvious man of the match. Bellamy matched an almost manic willingness to chase down lost causes with moments of sheer quality with his superb cross for our well constructed first goal and fine low pass to lay Peter Whittingham’s goal on a plate for him being the most obvious examples of this. However, there was also so much clever running (which, sadly, went ignored by his team mates at times) and sheer energy which saw him going as strongly in the first minute as he was in the last that you really had to remind yourself that you were watching a thirty two year old with dodgy knees! The only thing missing from Bellamy’s performance yesterday was a goal as he continued his fine recent form – if, at times this season, it hasn’t looked like it, there is little doubt that, since the Millwall match, Craig Bellamy has been a man on a mission and, if he can keep on being as influential for just four more matches, who is to say that he won’t succeed in that mission?
Getting back to the team, I thought we were superb when not in possession as, in contrast to earlier in the season when we appeared happy to sit back and invite the opposition on to us, we put Portsmouth under pressure all over the park. This is easier to do of course when the opposition is a man short, but, even so, the clear impression was given that the whole side are really up for the challenge of the next three weeks and that makes such a difference at this time of the season (there is just one proviso to this mind – a bit less Paul Scholes type tackling from Steve McPhail please!). As for when we had the ball, it’s quite strange – we have won our last two home matches by three goal margins and yet, apart from those goals, it’s hard to remember too many other occasions when we have looked like scoring. I can think of a Jay Bothroyd header from another Bellamy cross which he should have done better with and there were a few instances in the second half when we didn’t capitalise after Peter Whittingham, in particular, got to the bye line, but not much else besides that – while we are winning though, I’d prefer to praise us for showing the ruthless streak needed by promotion sides rather than having a go about us failing to create much when on top!
As usual, there were a mixed bag of results for the other promotion candidates – Norwich came from behind to deal Forest’s play off hopes a real blow at Carrow Road on Friday night and Reading just won’t go away I’m afraid as their 3-1 win over Leicester probably left Sven’s men with too much to do to make the top six. Hull won to remain right in contention for the Play Off’s and their cause was helped by Leeds dropping points in a home draw with Watford (I reckon the Hornets needed more than that though to maintain a chance of finishing in the top six). The really good news came with a fourth consecutive away defeat for the jacks which leaves them five points behind us with a worse goal difference. Millwall’s defeat at improving Coventry left them with a lot to do, but they could do themselves (and us) a favour next Saturday by pushing Preston closer to drop at the New Den.
When all’s said and done though, automatic promotion is still in our hands – win our next four games and nobody can stop us reaching the Premiership. However, there is nothing wrong with other sides giving us a little help along the way, and, if QPR can beat Derby tomorrow night and if an in form Ipswich take at least a point from Thursday’s East Anglia derby at Portman Road, then Neil Warnock’s side will come here next Saturday knowing that, barring a very big points deduction, they are guaranteed at least second position – that has to be good news for us surely.