Crystal Palace 0 Pompey 0

Luke Varney put in an impressive performance in the 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace
Luke Varney put in an impressive performance in the 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace

THIS WEEK IN 1980: Fratton boycotted by Plymouth fans

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The caretakers produced their last Pompey act before handing back the keys to David Lampitt.

And how they have served their club proud during the past two-and-a-half weeks.

The likelihood is that Guy Whittingham and Stuart Gray will no longer be at the managerial helm for the Nottingham Forest game on Saturday.

Depending on whether you give credence to the bookies, and add to that the fact he was one of the first interviewed, the successor will be Sean O’Driscoll.

Others have Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to replace Steve Cotterill, with the former Manchester United striker also rumoured to be in line to take the Fratton Park hot seat.

Regardless, the end game is almost upon us after all the searching.

Last night at Selhurst Park represented a fifth match in temporary charge for Whittingham and Gray.

They marked the occasion by leading their side to an excellent point against a Crystal Palace team who have emerged as shock promotion candidates.

Had Jason Pearce not struck a post with a first-half header or Dave Kitson put away a stoppage-time header, the result may have been even better.

Not that Pompey were complaining, having bounced back with a clean sheet following a deeply-disappointing Derby display last time out.

Unquestionably it was a marked improvement in front watching chief executive Lampitt and joint-owners Chris Akers and Roman Dubov.

They were the only notable faces in the Selhurst Park directors’ box last night.

No O’Driscoll, no Solskjaer, no Mark McGhee and no Mark Robins.

Still, out on the pitch the caretakers saw Pompey claim their seventh point in five matches with a resilient display.

Whittingham and Gray’s tenure has prompted the sticking to the 4-4-2 system, the continuation of Ricardo Rocha at the back and the maintaining of Luke Varney in attack.

It’s a legacy fans will be pleased with if, as expected, the reins are handed over before the week is out.

And all those elements combined to pull off a highly-creditable goalless draw at Palace.

Whittingham had called on the players to make up for last weekend’s sorry 3-1 loss at Pride Park.

And the Blues definitely responded accordingly.

Led by the energy of the rejuvenated Luke Varney, even a Palace defence now with six successive clean sheets were troubled on occasions.

Granted, a victory could have been there at the end of it but it still represented an excellent point during what is a transitional period at Pompey.

With Greg Halford not yet fully recovered from the shoulder injury which forced him off against Derby, Aaron Mokoena won a recall.

Slotting in at right-back, it was the former skipper’s first start since September 24 against Blackpool.

Joel Ward was another called from the bench, this time in a tactical switch.

He took the place of Erik Huseklepp in a move designed to tighten up the left-hand side of midfield, a ploy so effective at Ipswich last month.

Huseklepp dropped to the bench where he was joined by recalled duo Kanu and Bjorn Helge Riise.

The pair failed to make the squad for the weekend trip to Derby but we were back among the substitutes at Selhurst Park.

However, there was no room for Benjani, fit again following a hamstring problem.

When the kick-off got under way, it was Palace who started the strongest as the visitors spent the opening largely on the back foot.

Yet Pompey had their first opportunity on 16 minutes when Liam Lawrence delivered a cross in from the right. Kitson failed to connect with an overhead kick but David Norris did unleash a fierce half volley which deflected off Anthony Gardner.

The ball fell to Varney, who followed up with a first-time effort which sailed comfortably into Julian Speroni’s arms.

The hosts were threatening with their pace and movement every time they burst forward, sparking some desperate Blues defending.

In the 23rd minute, Nathaniel Clyne counter-attacked down the right and exchanged a few passes to cut inside the box before being thwarted by several brave blocks.

At the other end, Tal Ben Haim flung in a left-footed cross which Lawrence met with a header over from inside the penalty area.

Pompey then struck the bar on 29 minutes when Lawrence’s free-kick picked out Pearce at the far post.

The defender sent a header back across goal where it smacked against the far post, with Paddy McCarthy blocking Norris’ follow-up.

Varney was given a sniff on 40 minutes after Lawrence volleyed a through ball, allowing him to race clear, but the former Blackpool forward failed to control and Julian Speroni came off his line to gather.

After the break, Ward’s 53rd-minute cross from the left had to be spectacularly tipped over the bar from Speroni as it drifted over his head into the far corner.

Pompey had appeals for a penalty in the 68th minute when McCarthy nudged Kitson to the floor and then landed on top of him.

It was a clumsy piece of defending just inside the box, yet referee Darren Drysdale waved away appeals.

Then, in stoppage time Huseklepp crossed from the left and Kitson rose from close range to head over the bar when, in truth, he should have done better.

It ensured the match finished goalless but Pompey could be happy to travel back with a well-earned point.