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Pompey top scorer Brett Pitman misses out tonight

Pompey top scorer out of Posh visit

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It had been 56 days since the heroics of Wembley.

Eight weeks on and the first day in what will hopefully be the rest of Pompey’s life came at West Leigh Park on Saturday.

The FA Cup final this wasn’t. And this certainly wasn’t anything approaching the team which walked proudly out at the home of football on May 15.

Just two names remained on the teamsheet from the one which started against Chelsea a couple of months back.

And that tells you all you need to know about the size of the task Steve Cotterill faces at Pompey.

Cotterill walked into the post three-and-a-half weeks back with his eyes wide open.

He knew the size of the rebuilding job ahead of him when he said yes to the task of taking Pompey into a new era.

Now the rest of the world knows the Herculean effort he faces next season in the Championship.

There have been glimpses of how short his squad is from the level required to be even a competitive outfit in the English game’s second tier.

But now the explicit, unequivocal evidence has been presented that the men and masses of boys currently at his disposal quite simply are not good enough. Cotterill made no bones about it when questioned in the wake of the opening win against a game Hawks side.

How many of the squad on show against Shaun Gale’s were up to the level needed to play a part come August 7? Not many.

Marc Wilson, Richard Hughes, Michael Brown, Tommy Smith, Hayden Mullins and David Nugent are the six senior figures currently available who cut it and need to be around for the campaign ahead.

Throw in Joel Ward, Matt Ritchie and Marlon Pack as figures who could play supporting roles but shouldn’t be asked to deliver more than that.

The rest? They just aren’t ready yet, and, as Cotterill said himself, many of them might never be ready.

Perhaps it was no bad thing that a couple of thousand people witnessed the tools Cotterill has to work with as he gears up for the new campaign.

That now will surely realign expectations for what lies ahead.

The hours count down until D-day on Thursday when the club will hopefully exit administration via the Company Voluntary Arrangement.

That should see the transfer embargo currently keeping Cotterill in a strait jacket removed. And how he needs it removed.

Cotterill will be knocking around in football’s bargain basement when it comes to recruitment.

But those rare free transfer nuggets of gold have now been snapped up and the Blues boss is likely to have to work some magic in the loan market instead, to give his team any chance of becoming a squad.

The clash with Hawks did offer a few flashes of hope, however.

None came brighter than the sight of David Nugent opening his pre-season account after 14 minutes having led the side out as skipper.

Cotterill is playing a clever game when it comes to the returning Scouser.

Nugent has quickly been told he is wanted at Fratton Park next season and has been thrown a reassuring arm around the shoulder.

The words emanating from the gaffer will have lifted the £6m striker, while making it clear to the money men that he is very much seen as part of his plans.

Now it’s over to them to see if they can do the sums which will allow his hefty paypacket to remain on the wage bill.

Nugent staying and Smith still being around offers a decent starting point in terms of firepower which will do the job.

That was obvious enough as Smith stood out from the pack as Cotterill deployed a 4-3-2-1 formation for his first game in charge.

Hughes was employed at the base of midfield and moved the ball around calmly and efficiently as Pompey dictated the pace of the game in the opening half.

Brown was his usual spiky self as he put his foot in and proved his impressive bleep test effort when returning for pre-season was not a one off with his industry.

Just how much the likes of Pack and Ritchie will have to offer in the coming months is open to debate but both put in sound efforts.

Pack, in particular, looked decent and showed Cotterill why it’s probably worth not sending him out on loan just yet.

He was at fault for conceding a 49th-minute penalty as he upended Stuart Douglas but that simply gave Liam O’Brien the chance to steal a march on Jon Stewart by diving low to his right to keep out Sam Pearce’s spot-kick.

That arrived 35 minutes after Nugent had put Pompey in front as he latched on to Pack’s header and held off the Hawks’ central defenders to poke a finish past Nathan Ashmore.

Cotterill’s men served up some neat football in passages and held the majority of possession.

But Hawks were proving hard-working opposition and they were given their reward seven minutes before the break as Mustafa Tiryaki was given the freedom of the Pompey penalty area to nod Ian Selley’s free-kick home.

The game was settled 11 minutes after the restart as Brown’s perseverance saw him bundle through the Hawks defence and round Ashmore before tucking the ball away.

Then came the wave of substitutions which highlighted the alarming lack of depth in Pompey’s set-up as well as hindering the flow of the game.

That told most of the watching 2,206 everything they needed to know about the options their team could call on.

Cotterill remains defiant, however.

His belief that he can turn around the mess he has been dealt is unwavering and reassuring.

For him, taking on that baggage was a hit worth taking.

After all, the potential reward is the glory of bringing a club as proud as Pompey back from brink.