Paul Hart cut a forlorn figure as he trudged down the Ewood Park tunnel knowing full well his side had thrown away three precious points to one of their relegation rivals. It was all a far cry from the same walk at half-time, as he strolled back to the changing rooms holding a deserved lead that the hosts showed no signs of overturning.
Indeed, few would expect a Sam Allardyce team to be so lacking in fight, character and menace, with Pompey easily handling anything from the wide men, while Aaron Mokoena brilliantly shackled their main threat, David Dunn. The half-time pies were sweet as the Pompey fans relaxed, with the prospect of defeat disappearing into the distance. Even when Big Sam brought on Benni McCarthy and Jason Roberts for the ineffective wingers, Morten Gamst Pedersen and El Hadji Diouf, it felt more like a manager panicking than any major cause for concern for the visitors. But as Hart’s men sat comfortably on their lead, they decided to throw it all away in a suicidal half-an-hour. Firstly, Frederic Piquionne failed to clear a corner allowing Roberts to net from close-range, and when Ryan Nelsen strode in unmarked 20 minutes later from another corner to head home, there was no way back for Pompey.
Blackburn’s third and final goal was again the result of a corner – albeit after the corner had been cleared, but the slack marking in the middle meant it was the simplest of goals, and one that should not be conceded at this level. And it is this, the manner of the defeat, that will hurt Hart so much. Blackburn have lost just two of 17 at home since Big Sam took over, so winning was always going to be tough. But while Pompey fans got their hands on a well earned half-time pint, their team looked at total ease. The first half – and the game itself – was short of any real chances, and although Pompey rarely threatened the Rovers’ goal, they looked assured at the back.
But Hart was as aware as anybody that Blackburn’s main threat was from set-pieces. More than half of their goals this term have come from set-plays, so the threat would have been drummed into the ears of the Blues all week. However, they ultimately came up short, and it has cost them dear. A win would have lifted them out of the drop-zone – albeit temporarily – but now it is a four-point gap to 17th place and a tough trip to Stoke up next. Indeed, the Potters offer a similar threat to that of Blackburn, so Pompey’s brittle nature will have to be rectified if they are to stand up to both Stoke’s aerial and physical threat while also holding their own against the Potters’ new-found quality on the ball.
One of the positives from Saturday was the performance of Jamie O’Hara. The Tottenham loanee has shown his quality in glimpses more than anything since his arrival, but on Saturday he was the stand-out performer. O’Hara has been Hart’s preferred choice for the holding role, which has been beneficial to the team, but not necessarily to O’Hara himself – who offers plenty going forward. His boundless energy and willingness to join in further up field is a real weapon for Hart, but while Mokoena has proved something of a liability in the holding role, his services have been needed there for the time being. However, with Hassan Yebda out on Saturday, Hart’s hand was forced and O’Hara proved what a terrific asset he is.
His goal can be put down to poor goalkeeping as much as a good strike, but there is no doubt he is a threat from that kind of distance. Indeed, he looked Pompey’s biggest threat all game, as he seemed to pop up in decent positions throughout the Ewood Park encounter, although failed to make another telling contribution. With O’Hara being Pompey’s most prominent player on the day, it is unsurprising that he was involved in the game’s major talking point. A flashpoint with Blackburn’s Pascal Chimbonda occurred on the half way line, culminating in the French defender to aim a punch/slap at Pompey’s star man. Now, without following the Sir Alex Ferguson’s route of blaming referees, linesman or anything else in the vicinity for a defeat, there is little doubt this could have made the outcome so different if Andre Mariner had sent Chimbonda off.
The former Wigan man could’ve had few complaints too, as we’ve seen the likes of Kenwyne Jones sent of for much less in recent weeks. O’Hara’s opinion was that it was just a case of handbags on the whole and that a decision that could’ve or shouldn’t have gone Pompey’s way should not overshadow the fact his side well and truly “shot themselves in the foot”. And few would disagree.