Cotterill: Keeping players focused was a challenge

Steve Cotterill chats to his players on the pitch following the 3-0 defeat by Coventry at Fratton Park
Steve Cotterill chats to his players on the pitch following the 3-0 defeat by Coventry at Fratton Park
Scott Giles  Photography by Habibur Rahman

Genius who studied in Havant is off to Oxford University with five A and A*s under his belt

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Teachers will be facing a similar problem in a few weeks time.

Kids will be looking out of the window thinking about the mischief they will be getting up to during the summer holidays, rather than focusing on what’s on the blackboard at school.

And for the authority figures, it can be an impossible task to get the most out of the students when their minds are elsewhere.

Steve Cotterill has faced exactly that challenge in recent weeks, with Pompey’s season effectively over when their faint play-off hopes were extinguished back in March.

And the Blues boss admits he has been affected by the strain of attempting to drag performances out of his players when so many knew they were playing out time.

Cotterill said: ‘I have found the past couple of weeks tiring and stressful.

‘I still want to win but it’s hard getting that extra ounce out of them (the players) when they know collectively that half the team are on loan and the other half might not be here next season.

‘I don’t know if it’s the most drained I’ve felt at the end of a season. I’m not a dramatist.

‘It’s been a long hard season for our lads and it’s hard to get them back up for it.

‘It was a case of “job done” eight weeks ago because it’s been based on survival rather than winning.

‘We’ve had nothing else – it’s what we’ve had to do.’

While Cotterill’s motivation to finish as high as possible was still there, it’s understandable that the loan players were less concerned once safety was assured and the play-offs were out of reach.

And after the start to the campaign saw the Blues bottom of the table in September, Cotterill admits he would have taken a 16th-placed finish back then.

He said: ‘If someone had said to me at the end of August “you will end up with 58 points on the board” I probably would have taken it there and then. Unfortunately, you then want 68 points and 78 points – well, I do anyway.’

A few stern words in his final half-time team talk of the season at least made sure Pompey didn’t finish the campaign with a whimper.

Asked why the players were out five minutes early for the second half at Scunthorpe, Cotterill replied tellingly: ‘I’d finished.

‘We were rubbish in that first half, even though I thought we were okay for the first five or 10 minutes.

‘Jamie (Ashdown) made a mistake and it ends up in the back of our net. You think it’s going to be one of those days.

‘I had a look at our lads in the warm-up and thought “we will need a goal early on here to give us a bit of leg-up” but we didn’t get that and we gifted them a goal.

‘Then we did things in the game that we haven’t done all season.

‘We’ve had a few bad away performances but that first half was certainly poor from us and I think the lads knew that at half-time.

‘So it wasn’t difficult to be better in the second half because we were pretty rubbish in the first half.

‘If we had played like that for 90 minutes, we would have probably won the game.’