Burnley 0 Pompey 1

David Norris watches his left-fott shot arrow towards the corner of the net. Picture: Allan Hutchings
David Norris watches his left-fott shot arrow towards the corner of the net. Picture: Allan Hutchings
Plymouth Argyle's Remi Matthews. Picture: PA Images

Plymouth’s goalkeeping crisis ahead of Pompey clash

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Once more a certain mill town in deepest Lancashire would provide a glorious beacon of hope.

Burnley on a bitterly cold and dreary December day has little charm to its visitors.

But for Pompey fans, it has again given precious optimism in the battles ahead.

One of which, of course, is in the form of Southampton this coming Sunday.

It was a mere two seasons ago when Avram Grant so memorably surged into Turf Moor’s visitors’ end to embrace Blues supporters.

That was after steering his side to a 2-1 victory – within 24 hours of the club entering administration.

It was a bleak scenario which would ultimately take Pompey to the brink of its very existence.

But on February 27, 2010, Grant’s battered troops began the fightback following their latest shelling.

These days the club’s financial situation remains precarious, despite the arrival of Convers Sports Initiatives.

Still, we are being assured there are more saviours on the horizon.

In the meantime, Michael Appleton maintained his impressive start to life as Fratton Park boss on Saturday.

And with it, the Blues so deliciously stoked up the forthcoming mouth-watering local derby.

A last-gasp victory at Burnley and suddenly there is tangible belief among Pompey fans they can once more destroy the current Championship leaders.

Watford, just three weeks ago, feels like a different lifetime.

A second successive win – the first time that has been achieved since March – has cranked up the levels of anticipation.

With seven points from the past three games, Pompey have discovered a little bit of form at the most crucial of times.

How the Blues followers are now relishing the arrival of their neighbours.

Particularly should Bartosz Bialkowski retain his place in the Southampton goal following his Blackpool horror show.

Nonetheless, excitement rather than fear is breeding among Blues supporters in the build up to Sunday’s fixture.

Strain your ears, you may just be able to make out a faint rendition of ‘Is This The Way To Amarillo’.

But it should not merely be the Burnley scoreline to boost the spirits of Pompey fans.

The manner in which the victory was secured was just as encouraging to those 385 visitors who braved the wind, rain and cold to attend.

Appleton’s side is beginning to display an attractive sheen as he instils his footballing mantra.

In the first half, particularly, they bossed matters – using patient build-ups and some intricate passing moves.

Granted, in the match on the whole, not too many clear-cut goal-scoring opportunities were created.

Nonetheless, there were some mighty-impressive periods of play from the visitors who are slowly being introduced to Appleton’s footballing vision.

On the balance of play against a team who had just won three on the bounce, few could deny the visitors deserved their late break.

And fittingly it was the rejuvenated David Norris who supplied the match-winner.

Upon Appleton’s arrival, doubts were beginning to creep in over the effectiveness of the midfielder who arrived in the summer.

It had been a lengthy pursuit by former manager Steve Cotterill, yet despite some impressive early displays Norris was fading fast.

The past three matches, however, have seen a marked transformation in the 30-year-old who has now scored twice in that period.

What’s more, he is continuing to blossom in the more advanced midfield role now being asked of him.

Many may clamour for Pompey to revert to the standard 4-4-2, yet the proof Norris is thriving in a role behind the lone striker is irrefutable.

Sure enough on Saturday, with the match entering three minutes of time added on, he popped up to settle the destination of the points.

Stephen Henderson’s booming goal-kick was initially collected by Joel Ward, then Norris took over to drive home a left-foot shot from outside the area. It was goal number five from the former Ipswich Town man, who had scored twice against the Clarets last season.

The strike also marked a first Pompey away win since defeating Leicester City on March 19 – a run spanning 13 matches.

No wonder the optimism is now flooding back into Blues fans.

No question about it, the visitors were the better side in the opening 45 minutes, leaving the home fans seething.

As early as the third minute, Norris drove in an angled shot which Lee Grant pushed out towards Luke Varney.

The Pompey forward struggled to get a clean hit on the follow-up, however, with Kieran Trippier completing a comfortable goal-line clearance.

Then on 16 minutes came a moment of controversy, bafflingly omitted by the Football League Show’s highlights package.

It would also end Varney’s involvement and cast concerns over his fitness for the showdown with Southampton.

A pass was played down the middle, with the Pompey player lifting the ball over the on-rushing Grant.

In the process, Varney was caught by the keeper, banging his knee and forcing him to receive medical attention. Curiously, referee Steve Rushton gave a free-kick against the forward for having his foot high, a decision Appleton himself described as ‘baffling’.

Within four minutes Varney was forced to leave the pitch, being replaced by Erik Huseklepp.

Pompey, though, maintained that early pressure and Hayden Mullins saw a 24th-minute shot from distance fumbled by Grant with none of his team-mates present to capitalise.

It was a much-improved Burnley who emerged after the break and Henderson had to deflect Chris McCann’s stinging drive wide on 48 minutes.

At the other end, a delightful move down the left resulted in Mullins teeing up Huseklepp whose angled shot fizzed past the far post.

But the match was heading for a draw and a creditable result for the visitors.

Then up popped Norris at the death with a delightful finish to seal a first win in 14 matches on Pompey’s travels.

It leaves Appleton’s men and the fans in buoyant mood heading into a first Fratton Park south-coast derby for six-and-a-half years.

Southampton, Pompey are indeed waiting for you.