Pompey 0 Cheltenham 0

Michael Drennan attempts to get through the Cheltenham defence. Picture: Joe Pepler
Michael Drennan attempts to get through the Cheltenham defence. Picture: Joe Pepler
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So just what did happen to those men in white shirts?

The bumper crowd settled down, the sun came out to play, even Mike Oldfield’s ‘Portsmouth’ made a welcome return as the teams marched onto the pitch.

All on the anniversary of that Old Trafford triumph in 2008 which would herald in the FA Cup at the end of that run.

Saturday had the ingredients to be something truly special for Pompey followers.

Except those who matter most – the players – failed to play their part.

For all Richie Barker’s side’s ebullience, imagination and creativity at Chesterfield the previous Monday, the opposite occurred against Cheltenham.

Highly contrasting goalless draws and with it many fans’ emotions are hurled from one extreme to the other once more in this fitful campaign.

Praise had been gushing, to many extents rightly so, following the Proact Stadium display which so deliciously whetted the attacking appetite.

For all the practicality of clean sheets and building from the back in a relegation battle, nothing can displace entertaining football for exciting the fans.

Chesterfield had that – delivering a timely run into the television box to impress the watching audience.

Barker’s opening speech when he arrived on the south coast centred on grinding out results and posting clean sheets to propel the team up the table.

At the league leaders they displayed so much more than that trait, even if it yielded a point when the showing deserved a greater return.

Encouraging signs then from those men resplendent in white, certainly a lip-smacking television turn to attract 17,254 to Fratton Park the following match.

What unfolded was a point achieved in uninspiring circumstances which may have improved the position against relegation but hardly raised the mood of the Fratton faithful.

Chesterfield was meant to be a turning point, instead the fears are it is nothing more than an oasis in this ever-stretching desert.

If the hammering at Scunthorpe was a blip, Pompey supporters will be praying the football at Chesterfield wasn’t similarly a one-off.

Of course, eight clean sheets in 16 matches during Barker’s charge should be applauded, unquestionably it is an outstanding statistic.

He has transformed the defence of a side conceding at least two goals a match under the last days of Guy Whittingham to provide a steady platform on which to construct.

In Ben Chorley he has recruited an outstanding central defender and leader who is rapidly emerging as a serious player of the year contender, despite arriving in January.

Barker has used the training ground and player market to solve the issues which blighted Whittingham’s spell at the Blues helm this season.

In doing so it is now 305 minutes since Pompey last conceded, while it has been 333 minutes since an opposition last netted at Fratton Park.

What’s more, since the return of Bondz N’Gala to the line-up, they have picked up three successive clean sheets and in truth barely looked like conceding in any of them.

In the process they are being led towards safety, the manager’s chief remit upon his December arrival is being honoured.

Avoid relegation first by clearing that hurdle of reaching the 52-mark and then see where the points tally leads the club.

Yet it’s the tally of just 10 goals scored in Barker’s 16 matches which is an increasing concern to Pompey fans in this entertainment industry.

There are differing degrees of expectations at Fratton these days now stability has been created, yet all followers can agree on the necessity to enjoy watching their football.

And on Saturday the Blues rarely suggested they could alter that sparse goal-scoring sequence.

Afterwards, both Nicky Shorey and N’Gala admitted a draw against the Robins was a fair result – but they would wouldn’t they?

The hosts were fortunate not to be behind at the interval and for all their improved display during the second half didn’t create enough to have won the encounter themselves.

Cheltenham would have the better of that opening 45 minutes against an insipid Blues side containing one change to the team which performed so well at Chesterfield.

Barker elected to revert back to 4-4-2, with Michael Drennan returning from international duty to partner Jake Jervis in attack.

Romain Padovani made way as Wes Fogden was given a central midfield role alongside Toumani Diagouraga, while injury to Daniel Alfei ensured Joe Devera kept his right-back spot.

It was an attacking line-up and had Barker opted to retain the lone striker system employed at Chesterfield for a home match no doubt he would have received criticism.

As it was, the Blues’ best chance of the half fell to Jervis in the 14th minute after surging down the left-hand side of the penalty area.

The four-goal striker, however, would pull his angled shot just wide of the far post with only keeper Scott Brown to beat.

It would be the Robins who monopolised the most dangerous goalmouth moments in that half, with Terry Gornell the main thorn in the side.

Yet Ashley Vincent came closest when his 21st-minute shot from distance crashed against the right-hand post following a corner.

Barker’s side would struggle with their final delivery, particularly from the right, where crosses were under hit far too often to deny decent service to Jervis and the generally quiet Drennan.

Admittedly it was far better after the break from Pompey but by then the Robins’ had become content to settle for a point on their travels.

Fogden saw a right-foot drive saved well at the near post by Brown, while Ricky Holmes down the left had a shot nicked agonisingly past the far post for a corner.

With the match entering stoppage time, an almighty melee inside the Cheltenham penalty area resulted in the ball bouncing to the edge of the area where Fogden was lurking.

His first-time shot was goal-bound until a foot was stuck out and it was diverted for another corner when the crowd were expectant of a match-winner.

When the final whistle sounded there was chuntering from the home fans rather than rejoicing at another clean sheet.

Regardless, it’s another point towards safety. Yet whereas on Monday they floated that step, on Saturday they were dragged along.