Place in Pompey annals the greatest of spoils

To the victor belong the spoils.

There was no shortage of needle when the teams last met at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler
There was no shortage of needle when the teams last met at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler

And rarely has the prize been so great for Pompey as the one which will be fought for a Fratton Park tonight.

The phrase is a remnant of American politics. Fitting really, for a rekindled rivalry which, in this sphere, has the weight of a Republican v Democrat presidential battle behind it.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

In the realms of League Two football, it has never been bigger.

Pompey v Plymouth. Paul Cook v Derek Adams. Naval port v naval port.

It’s the two heavyweights of the fourth tier slugging it out in a match-up which stretches back 95 years.

In the green corner, the long-term leader who flexed their muscle in the early stages of the contest before losing out on points.

And in the blue corner, the contender they all thought would become champion.

There has seemed a degree of fate about the two outfits ending on collision course this season, ever since they met at Home Park last August.

The only shame is a packed Wembley will not host the meeting of the fourth-tier big hitters at the end of the month.

We debated the significance of the last meeting between the two sides and where it stands in Pompey’s recent history.

There can be no question over the importance of what unfolds over the next 180 minutes.

That’s the minimum distance to be travelled in the next four days and how the respective camps deal with the intensity of their play-off battle will go a long way to deciding the victor.

Pompey are well equipped with men who have experienced the end-of-season head-to-head dust-ups.

And their performances in the big games have spoken of players with the constitution to handle the big occasion.

Oxford United in January and two reckless minutes against tonight’s opponents last month have been the exceptions. Naturally, questions will be asked of Plymouth’s resolve after they set the pace early on.

There was a five-point lead at the head of the table for the Pilgrims last year – and a 10-point gap to the play-offs as recently as February.

Ironically, it’s Cook who downplays the significance of his rivals losing their way, preferring to praise their achievements.

There’s little doubt the familiarity between the clubs has bred some contempt this season, too, however.

A cordial relationship cooled over Pompey’s interest in Reuben Reid last year.

Cook was privately frustrated at the lack of response to calls to his opposite number, as he attempted to ascertain the lay of the land.

Adams then called for an FA probe as Cook publicly confirmed his interest in the player.

Then things got feisty at Fratton, with some of the Plymouth coaching staff’s antics veering into the realms of inciteful.

There was little goodwill shown on the full-time whistle, adding a tasty bit of needle to an already intoxicating mix.

Chairman Iain McInnes joked this week the League Two trophy should have been on parade at Pompey’s end-of-season dinner on Monday.

It was a statement delivered in jovial tone, albeit with an underlying conviction that should’ve been the case.

Cook has been well backed with the task to get this club out of the division.

Promotion was the demand. And anything else will be seen as failure.

That’s the kind of expectancy these players have been dealing with all season.

Now it comes down to this – one of football’s ultimate tests of nerve.

Holding theirs and kickstarting the journey back will ensure Cook’s men immortalise themselves in the club’s annals.

And a place in history is surely the greatest of spoils for the play-off victor.