Pompey 0 Notts County 2

Izale McLeod hits the woodwork. Picture: Allan Hutchings (123555-008)
Izale McLeod hits the woodwork. Picture: Allan Hutchings (123555-008)

It was two-and-a-half years ago that the FA Cup last twinkled for Pompey.

A victory in the illustrious surroundings of Wembley upon the occasion of the semi-final stage.

Spurs were defeated that day, a 2-0 success some would argue was a more memorable feat than winning the Cup itself in 2008.

That April 11, 2010, date continues to be the Blues’ last triumph in the famous old competition.

There have subsequently been third-round eliminations at the hands of Brighton and Chelsea.

Now Notts County have continued that depressing trend – dumping the Blues out in round one.

If ever there is an event to hammer home how far Pompey have plummeted it is the FA Cup.

Indeed, Saturday offered a fresh footballing low for truly long-suffering fans who continue to crash through the floorboards.

Granted, in the context of things a first-round fixture against Notts County was a trifling irrelevance, an annoying distraction.

Michael Appleton intimated as much in the build-up, with League One survival – in expectation of a future points deduction – the overriding priority.

In truth, it’s hard to disagree with such an assessment.

Yet on Saturday it was more new ground dug up by a club which remains in limbo as the Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust seeks to seize control.

A dismal performance, in front of a low crowd, for a disappointing result.

Pompey can have no complaints, either.

To think Tom Kilbey remains the only player to net for the Blues in the competition since that Prince Boateng’s extra-time penalty against Harry Redknapp’s side.

The same Tom Kilbey who no longer plays football and has carved out a new career for himself in TV’s The Only Way Is Essex.

The latest FA Cup body blow was a dull, morale-sapping affair for those home fans who did turn out in the crowd of 7,560.

The Blues were abject, they were sloppy, they were careless. Too often they were brainless.

The first goal saw Brian Howard suicidally attempt to pass the ball out of defence, only to succeed in launching a County attack.

The second saw Yoann Arquin left all on his own at the far post to head home a left-wing cross.

Those decisive moments summed up everything poor about Pompey’s play on another recent FA Cup day to swiftly forget.

Izale McLeod did strike the bar with a header midway through the first half but that was the first and last meaningful action on goal for Appleton’s men.

Don’t let the late implosion of referee Darren Sheldrake distract from the bigger picture.

It was an abject showing from a side whose league performances have been wholly encouraging since that loss at Meadow Lane back in September.

What’s more, the erratic form of Howard is growing ever more of a concern, while Akos Buzsaky has still to fire up his anticipated magic.

And once again McLeod’s effectiveness has taken a dive in the absence of Wes Thomas as his striker partner.

Incidentally, Thomas was not part of Bournemouth’s FA Cup win over Dagenham & Redbridge having picked up a knock in training.

Still, inevitably pockets of boos greeted the final whistle on Saturday.

They should have been cheers considering how uninspiring and insipid the spectacle had proven to be.

At least the second-half touchline skirmish provided a bit of excitement as players and coaching staff jostled and pushed with testosterone rampant.

That had followed Scott Allan’s 75th-minute red card for wild challenge on Alan Judge.

Fully warranted, the only debate was whether Sheldrake had brandished a second yellow or a red.

It turns out it was a straight dismissal, meaning the on-loan midfielder is now banned for the next three matches.

For Allan, it capped a miserable weekend which saw him involved in a road traffic incident with a pedestrian on Friday night.

The midfielder was certainly a shadow of the player who sparkled at Sheffield United last Monday – clearly the incident weighing heavy on his mind.

Meanwhile, first-team coach Ashley Westwood was also sent to the stands for his role in the melee during which he confronted both Judge and County boss Keith Curle.

Of course, no-one dared to approach Appleton himself, who remained a restrained and composed figure throughout the chaos raging around him.

Forget Sheldrake, though, the responsibility for the defeat lay firmly at the feet of Pompey themselves – no-one else should be made to serve as a scapegoat.

Injuries to Ashley Harris and Lee Williamson ruled them out of the Fratton Park clash, while Mikkel Andersen and Carl Dickinson were unable to feature because of the desires of their parent clubs.

It meant four changes to the side which narrowly lost at Sheffield United last week, including the return of central-mdfielder Howard following suspension.

Regardless, County were the better team throughout and struck the bar on 19 minutes.

Great work down the right from the impressive Jamal Campbell-Ryce saw him square to Arquin, who rattled the crossbar with a shot.

Pompey themselves struck the woodwork a minute later after a great cross from the right by Allan.

McLeod challenged with keeper Bartosz Bialkowski, winning the duel to produce a powerful header which cannoned off the bar to safety.

Yet on the stroke of half-time the deadlock was broken through Francois Zoko.

Howard gifted the ball to the visitors as he ill-advisedly attempted to pass out of defence and, when Judge crossed, Zoko was there at the far post to head home.

Barely five minutes after the interval Gabor Gyepes threaded through a marvellous pass to McLeod who fired in an angled shot which was stopped by the legs of the keeper.

In the 56th minute, though, County extended their lead.

Campbell-Ryce crossed from the left and Arquin headed home at the far post.

After that Pompey couldn’t even mount a meaningful challenge on the Magpies goal and so dawned another early FA Cup elimination.

New depths continue to be plumbed in this on-going descent.