Pompey 0 Torquay 1

Ricky Holmes was lively against Torquay. Picture: Joe Pepler
Ricky Holmes was lively against Torquay. Picture: Joe Pepler

Torquay had a sleepless night as their big-match preparations were left in tatters.

Yet it was those with Pompey connections tossing and turning come Saturday evening as that relegation nightmare was revisited.

To think the Gulls ventured to Fratton Park bleary-eyed with sleep deprivation courtesy of flooded rooms at their Hilton hotel stopover.

After being forced to evacuate their accommodation at 2am on the match day they were eventually transferred to the Marriott.

The comical incident meant the Torquay players failed to get their heads down again until gone 5am.

Hardly surprising then, the sluggish start made to the match and the pathetically lacklustre opening 45 minutes.

Except the sleepwalking display originated from Pompey rather than the opposition who had endured such a wretched build-up.

At least Chris Hargreaves’ side would have had a reasonable excuse tucked into their back pocket, ready to produce in their defence if required.

The Blues, though, had no such get-out clause.

They were appalling during the first-half, out-fought, unimaginative, dominated and completely lacking in energy.

Alarming enough for the disgusted Fratton faithful to stomach, against a team who are effectively one of their relegation rivals at present.

In addition, it was against a team who had far from a perfect night’s sleep ahead of this vital fixture.

How Torquay must have cracked open the Red Bull in the dressing room afterwards to toast a priceless 1-0 victory in their annual battle against the drop into non-league football.

That is if the stocks hadn’t run dry over the duration of the day.

Regardless, it was a bewildering display from a Pompey side who had returned to Fratton Park having picked up four points from two away matches.

Draws have become a little too commonplace during this Barker reign, nonetheless points have been steadily picked up as well as the unusual sight of clean sheets.

Victory at Adams Park on Tuesday night even suggested a corner had been turned in terms of positive results, in addition to apparently fortune finally being recruited ahead of transfer deadline day.

Conscious of the impact a third game in eight days could have on the legs of his players, Barker had rotated his side a little, making two changes to the team who won 1-0 at Wycombe.

In came Jed Wallace and Ricky Holmes, both substitutes in the aforementioned fixture, in place of Andy Barcham and Wes Fogden.

A plausible decision to keep his line-up fresh, particularly two players with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm.

As it was, the big-hearted Holmes emerged as the Blues’ outstanding performer by an absolute country mile to rightly get the plaudits.

Yet there could be no rational explanation for the subsequent display from the hosts which let them, their manager and the fans down.

Some supporters would afterwards label it as the season’s worst and a new low scraped – and certainly it may have been at Fratton Park in terms of both performance and result.

Frequent visitors to away grounds Pompey have travelled will, however, testify York, Newport, AFC Wimbledon and Bristol Rovers were far more abject.

Still, Saturday was bad and the fact it took until the 86th minute before Barker’s men recorded a shot on target tells its own story.

The truth is they had also actually barely produced a shot off target at that point, such had been their ineffectiveness in the final third.

Granted, they were better after the break, seizing hold of possession and show far more attacking urgency for long periods as the Gulls retreated deeper in their half.

The damage was already inflicted, though, the visitors had their lead and it was a slender advantage they never looked like surrendering after that decisive 28th minute Billy Bodin strike.

Perhaps the crumbling pitch had affected Barker’s men, although they played on far worse at Morecambe the previous weekend.

There was a strong wind whistling through at times but that was the same for both teams and didn’t seem to reduce Torquay’s effectiveness in the final third over 90 minutes.

There can be no excuses, Pompey were awful and not even a final flurry in three minutes of stoppage time could mask the poor quality of performance.

And to twist the dagger in the wound, David Connolly appeared as a substitute to score for Oxford on his debut in their win over AFC Wimbledon.

He had declared himself injured for the Blues in their previous two fixtures and had not trained since the Mansfield match.

In his absence, substitute Fogden fired in a shot which the keeper gathered in the 86th minute, while the midfielder and Ben Chorley both somehow skied over from close range in time added on.

Another substitute, Patrick Agyemang, had appeals for a penalty ignored when his attempted cross from the right struck Kevin Nicholson on the arm.

And that was it, the sum of Pompey’s play over 93 minutes against a team second from bottom and deprived of sleep in the build-up.

No wonder there were boos from the home support at both the half-time and full-time.

Holmes, Ryan Taylor and perhaps Ben Chorley aside, there was little to applaud and be grateful for.

Wallace is still in a trough, Jake Jervis was completely off the pace and Romain Padovani’s worrying recent form in the centre of midfield continued.

The Frenchman has been an increasingly marginal figure on pitch during his current three-match run, while Thery Racon continues to be left on the bench. How Simon Ferry is dearly missed.

Blues supporters have unfortunately become accustomed to losing over the last five years.

But considering the circumstances on Saturday it was a new depth plummeted.

The Blues are now just three points above the relegation zone, with a trip to 16th-placed Exeter to come next.

While defensively Pompey and Joe Devera are unrecognisable from the previous make-up under Guy Whittingham, offensively they are clearly struggling.

And one shot on target at home to Torquay United has ensured the relegation fear remains among Blues followers.

Plenty of sleepless nights ahead.