Emsworth lad lives out Pompey boyhood dream

Joel Ward
Joel Ward
Theo Widdrington. Picture: Sarah Standing (170841-4476)

Pompey midfielder out to turn Jackett’s head

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It was moment played out a thousand times in the mind of the boy from Emsworth.

On Sunday, December 18, 2011 it became a glorious reality.

Joel Ward the derby day hero for the team he grew up watching from the stands.

There couldn’t have been a more poignant savour for Michael Appleton’s men as hostilities recommenced with their deadly rivals yesterday.

Ward knows exactly what this game means to the followers of the star and crescent.

He knows the intensity with which the passion burns.

That’s why the 22-year-old was the hungriest man in the Southampton penalty area with six minutes remaining and his side trailing.

That’s why the emerging young player came alive quickest and reacted to George Thorne’s nod back across goal from David Norris’ corner.

That’s why the homegrown talent showed the bravery to put his head in where it hurts, while Guly do Prado meekly turned his back on the ball.

The quickening arrived for Ward as he realised he had saved his side in the south coast showdown.

Adrenalin coursed through his body and joy swept over him as he danced a jig of delight after blowing the roof off the Fratton End.

Ward’s family looked down on their flesh and blood from the South Stand as emotion welled in them all.

This was a moment that had been a lifetime in the making, an occasion prepared for from within the ranks of local lads’ outfit East Lodge.

It looked for all the world a goal that was never going to arrive.

Pompey’s performances of late have spoken of promise under their new manager.

There has been progress in the opening weeks of Appleton’s stewardship, with a belief returning to the Blues’ play.

A willingness to produce a more open expansive game has been hallmark of the man from Salford’s tenure to date.

Pompey have been prepared to take risks and shown a greater willingness to play the difficult pass in recent weeks.

That evaporated, however, in the searing heat and intensity of the south coast showdown.

Of course, Appleton’s men were not found wanting when it came to passion, grit and determination.

But when it came to playing the football which would have made the difference, they froze. And that so nearly proved costly.

Menace hung in the cold winter air at Fratton Park, as the football clubs of two cities with such ill feeling for each other collided.

The phoney war had been played out on the internet forums and social networking sites in the days and weeks in which the long countdown to renewed hostilities had worn on.

What was for real, though, was the strength of feeling which exists between the clubs.

That led to Fratton Park slowly turning into a seething bearpit as the moments neared to kick-off.

Southampton’s mass entry, 8ft metal walls and the police chopper hanging in the Portsmouth sky told you all you needed to know about the strength of feeling on display.

That was evident from the moment 3,000 Southampton supporters were ferried into the Milton End around 12.15pm.

Then, with around 10 minutes to kick-off, something changed. The volume went up, fury boiled to the surface and Fratton began to rock. This derby is still the real deal.

Such an atmosphere can bring the best out of people or it can send them into the shells.

Pompey’s players were fired up enough, that’s for sure, but when it came to keeping their cool in the heat of battle they were found wanting.

The signs were they were starting to settle in the final minutes of the first-half as David Norris fired a shot just wide from 20 yards.

The expectation was they would build on that after the restart, but instead too many players disappeared from view.

Southampton sensed a victory was there for the taking as attacking impetus dissipated from Pompey’s play.

The joyous strains of the chant to the tune Is This The Way To Amarillo? which had Pompey’s famous home bouncing in the first-half, was now absent.

The gap between Dave Kitson and his team-mates grew and the league leaders could smell an opportunity.

There was no surprise to see Stephen Henderson’s net billow 18 minutes after the restart.

The manner in which forward-thinking intent had disappeared from Pompey’s game was startling however, as the moment seemed to get the better of them.

Southampton’s fans were the ones now sensing this was their moment, the day which symbolised superiority returning to their door after years in Pompey’s shadow.

But with hope flickering and on the point of disappearing altogether, Appleton’s battlers found the courage to drag themselves off the canvas and back into the bout.

They were behind on the judges’ scorecards and closed to being outboxed, but a fighter’s heart was evident in the work of the men from PO4.

No-one typified that better than the local lad who the afternoon belonged to.