DAVID Flitcroft could barely speak as he addressed the 4,800 supporters inside the JD Stadium at the end of what was a roller-coaster final home game of the season for Bury.
The crowd – bolstered by 1,500 travelling fans – were treated to a breathtaking display from both sides.
Hallam Hope took centre stage, the on-loan striker scoring his first hat-trick in senior football and the first from any Bury player in the league for more than 14 years.
Sadly for the Shakers, Hope’s goals, along with a fourth from Andy Procter, were not enough to secure all the points as Portsmouth roared back with four second-half goals of their own, including three in the final 10 minutes.
It was little wonder that Flitcroft was hoarse after barking orders from the touchline all afternoon, even before Pompey’s late, late show.
But the 40-year-old’s croaky tones just intensified the passion in his voice as he thanked the fans for their support on a day that saw the Shakers finish the season unbeaten on home turf under his tenure.
Flitcroft believes it is significant Bury’s unbeaten run of 16 games, including 13 since his appointment, began after the stadium was renamed in November.
“If we want to get the home fans buying into the belief that we are going to be successful then you certainly need good home form,” he said.
“We’ve not been beaten since they renamed it the JD Stadium – that is a fact and something that is outstanding considering the doom and gloom that was here when we first arrived.
“We’ve lifted that and this run is certainly something we can build on for the future.”
Flitcroft admitted he wants Hope to be a part of that future after the 20-year-old Everton striker’s scintillating first-half display sent Bury into the break 2-0 up.
His looping header, redirecting a Clive Platt knockdown into the top corner, put Bury ahead in the ninth minute.
Two minutes later and Portsmouth stopper Trevor Carson – on loan from Bury – was tested by a Hope shot, while Johnny Ertl had to throw his body in front of an Andrew Tutte strike, set up by the Goodison Park youngster.
Pablo Mills had a header cleared off the line on 33 minutes before Hope was back in on the act a minute later, beating Carson with an angled drive from the edge of the box.
Hope could have sealed his hat-trick on the stroke of half-time, but for a quick reaction from the Pompey keeper to stop his shot squeezing under his body at the near post.
Bury did not have it all their own way, with Ricky Holmes putting in some inviting low crosses from the left and fellow winger Jed Wallace forcing Brian Jensen into an improvised punch to clear his stinging shot.
There was no sign a comeback was on the cards though when Procter dived to meet Danny Mayor’s cross, glancing his header inside the far post four minutes after the break.
But Danny Hollands pounced on the loose ball following a Portsmouth corner just four minutes later and Ryan Taylor sneaked a scruffy shot inside the post on 82 minutes to double their tally.
That all looked academic when Hope dragged a low effort past Carson with three minutes remaining to become the first player to score a league hat-trick for Bury since Ian Lawson in August, 1999.
But Hollands’s long throws were causing havoc in the Bury defence and Sonny Bradley profited two minutes from time before Wes Fogden followed suit in the second minute of stoppage time, pouncing on a Jensen fumble.
The late comeback ensured Bury would remain 10th in the table, but despite leaving a sour taste the Bury manager was not about to let it ruin his day.
“Inside I am hurting at the way we have lost the goals, but there are so many positives I can take out of it,” he said.
“I would rather talk about our goals, which were stunning.
“Hallam Hope epitomises everything we want to do with this football club and there were some excellent performances all round - Tom Soares, Craig Jones at right-back and Danny Mayor was mercurial - so I can’t let a mad 10 minutes cloud my feelings.”
BURY: Jensen 5; Jones 7, Mills 6, McNulty 6, Hussey 5; Soares 7, Tutte 8 (Cameron 90+2), Sedgwick 8 (Obadeyi 6 66), Mayor 8; Platt 7 (Procter 7 31), Hope 9.
Subs not used: Grimes, Charles-Cook, Burgess, Poscha.
PORTSMOUTH: Carson; East (Bradley 78), N'Gala, Corley, Shorey; Ertl (Webster 46), Hollands; Wallace, Fogden, Holmes (Agyemang 69); Taylor.
Subs not used: Smith, Devera, Jervis, Whatmough.
Goals: Bury 4 (Hope 9, 34 & 87, Procter 49) Portsmouth 4 (Hollands 53, Taylor 82, Bradley 88, Fogden 90+2).
Yellow cards: None.
Referee: Steven Rushton (Staffordshire).
Attendance: 4,759 (1,498 visiting).
Star man: Hallam Hope – The Everton striker’s end product did not quite live up to his approach play in Bury’s defeat at York the previous week, but the whole package came together with devastating effect against Portsmouth. Hope took his tally for Bury to five in seven games thanks to a mixture of tireless running, a goalscorer’s instinct and some clinical finishing. The sight of the youngster pointing to spaces in behind the visitors’ defence, showing experienced pros like Chris Sedgwick where he wanted the ball, belied his age and highlighted his awareness. If Flitcroft can tempt Toffees boss Roberto Martinez to let him stay at the JD Stadium for a whole season, Bury supporters could be in for a treat in the club’s 130th anniversary year.