Hawks 0 Pompey 4

Dion Donohue. Picture: Colin Farmery

New boy’s bitter-sweet Pompey experience

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At 4.30pm yesterday afternoon, the club officially announced what everybody already knew.

Some four hours later and those present at West Leigh Park witnessed what everybody already knew.

Greg Halford was back at Pompey.

And for that reason, the optimism levels for the season ahead have just multiplied.

Yes, the recruitment of the 26-year-old from Wolves really is that crucial to Steve Cotterill’s second campaign as manager.

Only this time, Halford is here on a permanent deal.

Sure enough, if anybody needed reminding of the importance of such a piece of transfer news it was glaringly obvious last night.

Having trained with his team-mates since the middle of last week, Halford was always going to be handed a starting spot by Cotterill.

That was the case despite the deal being officially rubber-stamped by all concerned only before kick-off.

Naturally, it was in the central-defensive role that Halford was groomed in during the second half of last season.

And he excelled.

It was business as usual for Halford, picking up precisely where he finished at the end of his loan spell before joining from Wolves this week.

He represented signing number five for Cotterill this summer when he put pen to paper on Thursday – as first revealed by The News.

Last night, Halford once more demonstrated why so far he has been the most important.

Halford’s composure on the ball, his excellence in the air, his ability to ping precision 45-yard passes from one side of the pitch to the opposite corner.

They were all there for all to see.

What’s more, only the underside of the bar deprived him a getting his name on the scoresheet following a 35-yard free-kick.

As it was, goals from Joel Ward, Hayden Mullins, Dave Kitson and Luke Varney gave Pompey a 4-0 victory over their neighbours.

Yet it took until the 60th minute before they finally managed to break down a gutsy Hawks side who posed their own problems on plenty of occasions.

Regardless, it was that man Halford who was head and shoulders above everybody else on that West Leigh Park pitch last night.

Of course, few need enlightening over what the much-travelled utility man offers the Blues.

Halford was among five new boys who featured for Cotterill’s men.

Jason Pearce, Luke Varney and David Norris were also named in the starting line-up.

Meanwhile, Stephen Henderson was among the substitutes, appearing in the second half as Jamie Ashdown’s replacement.

Meanwhile, Lewis Stockford was granted a surprise start, having penned his first professional contract with the club only in the summer.

The former Priory School pupil started in the centre of a midfield three alongside Mullins and Norris.

On the bench were Hermann Hreidarsson and Tal Ben Haim, despite having just two days training under their belts.

Making up the rest of the bench was new first-year professional Lewis Tallack and Academy players Ryan Williams and Sam Magri.

There was also a familiar face among the Hawks squad, with former Blue Perry Ryan among the substitutes.

Ryan is currently trialling at West Leigh Park as he attempts to find himself a club following his release from Fratton Park in the summer.

When the match got under way, it was the hosts who first threatened.

Barely a minute into the action, the Hawks’ new striker Lee Peacock swivelled superbly and fizzed a shot just over the bar.

At the other end, Halford clipped in a delightful 40-yard pass which Dave Kitson controlled well, only to be thwarted by Nathan Ashmore.

Joel Ward’s follow-up effort from the right flashed across the face of goal.

Ashmore was again called into action moments later when Varney’s fierce 20-yard drive was pushed around the post.

Peacock should have given Shaun Gale’s side the lead after his fellow new recruit, Mark Nwokeji, skipped down the right and crossed, but Peacock could only steer his close-range effort into the arms of Ashdown.

Halford went agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock on 17 minutes with a stunning free-kick.

Stockford won the foul and the central defender stepped up to deliver a magnificent 35-yard strike which struck the underside of the bar.

The game began to settle into a tight affair, but when Pearce’s deep cross from the left was headed back across goal by Kitson, there was Ward to see a seemingly goalbound effort deflected over.

Henderson, Williams and Hreidarsson were all introduced at the break, replacing Ashdown, Ricardo Rocha and Stockford.

It was an impressive early impression from Williams, who began to wreak havoc down the right-hand side.

But the Australian youngster should have netted on 55 minutes following a superb Varney run and cross down the left.

Yet Williams could only slice his far post effort wide with the goal gaping.

However, Pompey did break the deadlock in the 60th minute when Williams’ cross from the right was headed on and Ward produced a smart finish.

Just six minutes later and it was effectively game over as Varney pulled the ball back from the left and Mullins steamed in to drive home via a slight deflection.

It was Kitson next on the scoresheet in the 81st minute when he pounced after Ashmore had initially saved his rebound.

Varney completed the scoreline a minute from time, spectacularly volleying home a deep cross from Stockford at the far post.

Pompey’s pre-season off to a winning start – and Halford was as supreme as ever.