Derby 2 - Pompey 0

Brett Pitman. Picture: Joe Pepler

Posh manager wary of Pompey striker’s threat

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The reasons for Pompey’s poor start to the season were there for all to see.

There were the referees to blame. Then there was the farcical North American build-up to the campaign.

Throw in a plenty of misfortune and you could sympathise with Steve Cotterill as his post-match press conferences turned into a media groundhog day.

There could be no such lines trotted out, though, after the Blues were dealt a healthy dose of Championship reality at Pride Park on Saturday night.

Derby were good value for putting the brakes on Pompey’s upwardly mobile ambitions – and Cotterill was not about to deny that.

As the Blues manager searched for the reasons for his team’s tepid first-half display against an energised opponent, excuses weren’t on the agenda.

Instead he delivered an honest and frank assessment of a performance which, in the first 45 minutes, ranked as his team’s poorest of the season.

It was a forthright approach from Cotterill delivered with an honesty which was well received.

Things improved after the interval, but not nearly enough to warrant a return against a Derby side playing with the kind of verve and vigour which has been the hallmark of Pompey’s recent form.

David Nugent’s tweaked knee injury which arrived at Hull a couple of weeks ago forced a reshuffle, with Joel Ward entering the equation.

His injury may have prompted a selection merry-go-round which armed Cotterill’s argument of a lack of depth but it didn’t provide legitimate fuel for the display which ensued.

The home side thundered into the visitors from the outset and set a tempo they failed to match.

A packed home crowd sensed blood early on and a creaking Pompey defence never looked like fending off the onslaught.

Jamie Ashdown had already pulled off one world-class, point-blank save to deny Kris Commons before Derby took the lead after 22 minutes.

Pompey fumed at referee Colin Webster’s assistant for giving the spot-kick as Aaron Mokoena lunged in on the rampant Tomasz Cywka.

It was the right decision as the South African paid the price for going to ground and just failing to nick the ball away from the Polish talent.

Cywka’s theatrics talked the referee out of giving the decision but not his linesman and Robbie Savage accepted the invitation to take centre stage.

Dave Kitson, whose form has hit a lull in recent games, had a decent breakaway chance to bag a strike before the opener, but forced Frankie Fielding into a decent stop from 20 yards.

That opportunity was the exception rather than the rule as Derby threatened to dish out a televised hell approaching the one Pompey served up to Leicester six weeks ago.

The key to Derby’s dominance laid in both the approach Nigel Clough employed for the game and the men that executed it.

The east Midlands football world echoes with his family name but Clough is now beginning to step out of the shadow cast by his father’s legend.

The 4-2-3-1 formation he set his side up with is an intriguing one to analyse and makes for exciting viewing.

Derby played with the shackles off and the freedom of their football spoke of the 15 strikes they had smashed in across the four previous games on home soil.

Pompey never came to terms with the attacking triumvirate of Paul Green, Commons and Cywka operating in the spaces between the Blues midfield and the back four and they wreaked havoc.

Shape and tactics weren’t the only factors in Derby’s dominance, though. They looked as hungry as their visitors looked jaded.

After the alleged revelations of the weekend, Arsene Wenger may have had some explaining to do to his missus but he wasn’t the only one who had to do some talking with Pompey a street behind on the judges’ scorecards as they faced their manager at the break.

The fact Derby’s tangible reward was a single goal gave hope, but that was largely extinguished 12 minutes after the restart.

There had been a couple of signs of revival in Pompey’s performance, but Cywka and Green’s tormenting continued as they carved through the Blues’ defence for the Irishman to tap in.

That brought out the ‘ole’ football from the home side as Pompey chased shadows.

Their opportunity to feel indignant arrived with 25 minutes left though, as the bodies went up in the Derby defence and a high ball appeared to strike defender Dean Moxey’s arm.

Liam Lawrence’s rabid response spoke of the validity of the case, but ref Webster was having none of it.

The frustration over that decision wasn’t masking the fact that Derby were good value for the points, however.

Kanu’s introduction added more life to Pompey’s game as they mirrored their opponent’s formation.

He should have set up a grandstand finale with nine minutes left but flashed a gilt-edged opportunity wide when clear 10 yards out. And with that went Pompey’s hopes.

Those expecting a romp up the table now Cotterill’s side is taking shape have now had their eyes opened to the truths of football in England’s second tier. The top-six chase is going to be a tough road.

But a bad day at the office isn’t going to dent the confidence which has flown into his men of late.

Cotterill will now wait to see whether he will get the chance to manoeuvre in the loan market.

With Nugent still sidelined, Kanu unable to get through a full game and Nadir Ciftci said to have put on 10lb over the past month, he feels he needs some attacking slack.

Balram Chainrai will hopefully be more accommodating to him in the talks scheduled for tomorrow night than he was to the supporters who have been rebuffed in their efforts to meet their new chairman and owner.

Any positive news on that front has to arrive without the preposterous rider of borrowing money he aired after securing the club’s future. Your pocket or no one’s please, Mr Chainrai.

Before that debate takes place, eyes will turn to the arrival of a QPR side tomorrow Cotterill was desperate to see come to Fratton Park with their unbeaten record intact.

They do just that and a night under the Fratton lights now awaits – and with it the chance for Pompey to quickly put the Derby Ram-raid to bed.