Hatters head south for a Fratton Park "barnstormer"!
The Hatters head to Hampshire this afternoon looking to start 2017 in the same style they finished 2016 against Barnet on New Year’s Eve – with a win that will take Nathan Jones’ side above hosts Portsmouth into fourth place in Sky Bet League Two.
Boss Jones and his players were in for training yesterday morning in preparation for the trip to Fratton Park, with the fifth-placed Hatters looking to build on a club record equalling run of four consecutive away league games without conceding a goal.
Alan Sheehan, Cameron McGeehan and Alex Gilliead were on target in Saturday’s win over the Bees, and the Hatters’ manager is looking forward to another festive game despite the quick turnaround of two matches in three days.
Speaking after the Barnet win, Jones said: “That’s the fixture congestion and thankfully we’ve got the squad to cope with it. It’s a great time. People moan about the congestion, the amount of games and time people get to recover, but it’s the British Christmas time and New Year, it’s a wonderful tradition and it’s as good as any.”
Jones celebrates a year in charge of the Town on Friday, and he wants to finish his first 12 months as Hatters boss off with a win in a “barnstormer”.
He added: “I’ve had a year at the club now and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I thank all of the fans for the constant support we get.
“I was listening to Colchester manager John McGreal saying how wonderful it was to take almost 500 fans with him to Kenilworth Road, but without being disrespectful to anyone, we take that everywhere. We take thousands with us and they are wonderful set of fans.
“I thank them for the support they’ve given me, for the welcome they’ve given me. I believe we are going to do something special together, so have a great time tonight (New Year’s Eve) and then get ready for a barnstormer down at Fratton Park.”
Sheehan, who scored a stunning first-half free-kick against Barnet to register his second goal of the season, added: “It’s a huge game. They are a point ahead of us, they beat us here. Probably the best team we’ve played I think, so we are looking forward to it.”
And midfielder Jonathan Smith, who played a part in both of the first two Town goals in only his second league start of the season on Saturday, added: “We’ll go there trying to win the game and we believe with what we’ve got, we can go and beat anyone in this league, so we won’t be going there in awe of Portsmouth. We’ll be going there to get the win for sure.”
The Hatters have met Portsmouth on 80 occasions previously. Town have come out on top in 33 of those fixtures, their biggest win against Pompey being a 5-1 victory in November 1908 as Herbert Moody netted four times.
Portsmouth won this season’s reverse fixture 3-1 at Kenilworth Road, making that their 32nd victory over the Hatters. The other 15 matches have been draws.
Since their win over the Hatters on 22nd November, Pompey have won two, drawn two and lost one of their four league matches.
They went down 2-1 at home to Stevenage in the game immediately after their trip to Bedfordshire, but followed it up with a 1-0 win at Grimsby, a goalless draw at home to Hartlepool and a 3-2 Boxing Day win at Newport County.
The Hampshire club found themselves 2-0 down with almost an hour gone at Rodney Parade, but goals from former Exiles midfielder Danny Rose, Enda Stevens and an 87th-minute winner from Kal Naismith ensured they took maximum points back over the Severn Bridge.
In their last outing, Paul Cook’s men drew 0-0 at Yeovil. With Pompey playing the day before his own side, Jones took the opportunity to travel to Huish Park – his old stomping ground as a Glovers player – with Mick Harford to watch the Town’s next opponents first-hand. Or so he thought…
“I saw 22 players in motion, but I couldn’t tell you much about the game,” smiled Jones about a game that was played in thick Somerset fog. “Me and Mick enjoyed the fish and chips down there so it was OK – well, Mick had a pie – but it was lovely to go down to Palmer’s fish and chip shop, go back to an old haunt of mine, and it was a good trip in the end!”
We all hope that the first trip of the New Year will end with similar smiles, as the last one did with the 2-0 win at Blackpool on 17th December. Indeed, the Town haven't been beaten on the road since the trip to Crawley on 17th September - a run covering seven league games and nine in all competitions.
If you are not one of the 1,546 Town fans who have bought a ticket for the game, make sure you follow the Hatters Wall on the club website, or if you are a Hatters Player subscriber, listen to Simon Pitts’ live commentary for Town’s match against Pompey.
Please be advised that the match is all-ticket, and none will be available on the day at Fratton Park.