Eleventh-placed Portsmouth are our next visitors to St. James Park as we continue our quest for the Holy Grail, or at least scoring a goal. Our drought is recognised by the bookies, who have us at 11/5 underdogs. Daniel Berger comes in for the injured Jagos Vukovic and Sean Morrison makes his 75th league appearance for us. We get off to a quick start and in the 5th minute, an outswinging Bertin Matip corner is met by Michele Marconi at the post, but his header is straight at Arnold. Two minutes later, Bradley Johnson picks up a yellow card for a foul on Lowe. Johnson’s next involvement is more positive as he shoots from the left of the area in the 18th, but it goes across the face of the goal and wide. Three minutes later, Marconi is tackled and the ball falls to Jonny Hayes; he beats Arnold, but not the far post and Portsmouth clear for a corner. It’s going to be another of those days, although Hayes has another go in the 25th minute, but his 20 yard effort is straight at Arnold. Hayes completes his hat-trick of chances in the 30th minute when Bradley Johnson plays him in and he shoots from 12 yards; Arnold parries and Portsmouth clear again for a corner. Hayes doesn’t stop there and continues his quest to score in the 35th minute by playing a one-two with Marconi on the edge of the area, but he shoots just over when picking up the return. Berger has an effort from 20 yards in the 37th minute, but it’s catching practice for Arnold. A minute later, Hayes continues his quest to score with a left foot effort from the right. He beats Arnold and the post – it goes in! We’ve scored! There’s jubilation amongst the 8,714 in attendance, who can claim they were there when the great goal drought of 2016 ended. It’s Hayes’ 13th goal of the season.
Portsmouth’s first effort of note is in the 57th minute when Burns heads an outswinging corner from Lawrence over. Ryan Mason slides Marconi in eleven minutes later and he finishes from 16 yards for his 20th goal of the season as we double our lead. The goals are flowing!!!! I make a double substitution in the 70th minute, with Jay Spearing replacing Bradley Johnson and Aiman Mustafa makes his debut, taking Marconi’s place up front. The substitution seems to inspire Portsmouth and Ghilas shoots wide from 20 yards in the 72nd minute. In the 78th minute, Sean Morrison crosses from the left and Mustafa heads in from 8 yards for a debut goal after just 8 minutes. A dream start! Or at least it would be if the linesman on the far side didn’t have his flag up for offside. The lead remains at two. Hayes comes off in the 80th minute as Federico Cenci replaces him. Mason shoots from 25 yards in the 88th minute, but Arnold is well placed and tips it over in the last action of the mathc. Michele Marconi is named Man of the Match with a rating of 8.1 and picking up a goal and an assist. The (long overdue) win sees us move up to 4th.
Whilst we win, things aren’t going as well at ninth-placed Newcastle United and Daniel Andersson is sacked by them. Simon Grayson is the favourite for the job, but my name is mentioned with the job. Torquay offer to loan Martin Brandt and all parties agree, so he goes there for 2 months. Jonny Hayes’ one-man quest to score (which eventually paid off) sees him named in Team of the Week. Cameroonian GK Elie Noutai, Colombian DC Alejandro Tapia, Danish D/WB L Nicolai Larsen and Bulgarian DC Mihail Maksimov all join for a week’s trial. Finnish striker Juko Virkki, who had been on trial, accepts the contract I’ve offered him and joins us permanently. Another one for the future – the potential is there for him to become a key player and we immediately get to work on his finishing:
Nathan Redmond of Birmingham City might not be described as one for the future, but he’s desperate to leave them and judging by his comments to the press, he sees us as the ideal destination as he says he wants me to come in and sign him.