Cotterill rues Norwich D-Day

David Nugent celebrates his goal in Pompey's 2-0 win at Norwich this season
David Nugent celebrates his goal in Pompey's 2-0 win at Norwich this season
Mohamed-Labib Maouche. Picture: Colin Farmery

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December 11, 2010 – D-Day for Pompey’s Championship aspirations.

That is the verdict of Steve Cotterill, who pinpoints that date as the season’s crucial turning point.

On that day, the Blues pulled off a shock 2-0 victory at Norwich, catapulting them into 12th spot.

Dave Kitson and Greg Halford were the scorers against a side which would ultimately win promotion.

It continued a remarkable run of eight wins in 13 matches which had hauled Cotterill’s men off the foot of the table.

Suddenly five points off the play-offs and with the January transfer window looming, the club were poised for lift off.

Yet they remained grounded.

No permanent recruits arrived, as Pompey were one of just three Championship clubs not to spend a single penny.

John Utaka was sold to Montpellier and Matt Ritchie to Swindon to further weaken the squad.

Michael Brown and Richard Hughes were to play just one more match each due to their contract dispute with the club.

Liam Lawrence was ruled out for two matches down to complications over his emergency loan.

And a spate of suspensions robbed Cotterill of Greg Halford, Dave Kitson and Aaron Mokoena.

Within six weeks, Pompey had tumbled to 20th and were again tangled up in the relegation mire.

For Cotterill, failure to strengthen the smallest squad in the Football League over that period was critical.

And he traces the season’s key moment right back to the previous time Pompey met the Canaries.

He said: ‘December 11 – that was D-Day.

‘After that, two players couldn’t play in Brown and Hughes.

‘Then we had Halford suspended for two games, Mokoena suspended for two games, Liam Lawrence couldn’t play for two games because of his transfer not going through on time.

‘Then Kitson was suspended for three games.

‘We didn’t have a team.

‘It was a mis-match. It was a mis-match like we had at the start of the season.

‘Then when we get through them and everybody is back fit and playing to a system again we go on another good run.’

That triumph over Norwich in December followed on from an impressive victory at Swansea.

By that stage, Pompey were five points adrift of Paul Lambert’s side – with a game in hand.

They were also just two points off seventh spot.

No wonder it had those connected with the club eyeing a genuine promotion push in the second half of the season.

As it was, the Blues embarked on a 10-match run without a win.

Amid it all, there was no money spent during the transfer window.

It was a failure matched only in the Championship by Coventry and Watford.

That criminal lack of transfer activity also sparked protests by SOS Pompey, a fans’ reaction publicly dismissed by joint-owner Balram Chainrai.

And, for Cotterill, it has ultimately proven decisive.

He added: ‘Norwich have deserved everything they have got this season.

‘You think and dream a little bit that maybe with a couple of players that might have been us.

‘I would have loved to have started this season with what we had been relegated with.

‘I would have loved that.’