Hull 1 - Pompey 2

Conor Chaplin. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey boss weighs up best attacking formula

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While a game of high-stakes poker went on in the background, Steve Cotterill’s men quietly continue to add to their impressive stash of chips.

Some serious bluff and counter-bluff diverted the attention from the real game out on the pitch as the supposed high rollers attempted to find a way to take the pot or at least save some face in walking away from the table.

But while the stakes weADVERTISEMENT re raised in such alarming style on Friday evening, Cotterill and his troops held their nerve convincingly just a few hours later while others chewed their nails behind dark glasses.

It seems Pompey’s recent history is all about brinkmanship and while the plot thickened once again on the eve of the match – even to the point of suggesting this could be the club’s last-ever game as the negotiations rumbled on in the background – the players and coaching staff showed none of that defeatist attitude.

Others may have chosen to walk away from such an unsavoury situation. But Cotterill is not one to fold his hand in a hurry and has garnered a kind of spirit in the camp that could yet take the team a long way this season.

That of course, depends on how others conduct themselves over the coming days, weeks and months.

Whisper it quietly but this team could yet make a serious bid for promotion with the right people running the club’s finances.

For those battle-weary supporters who stood defiantly in the face of this latest threat to their club after making the long trek north, the call is for stability, honesty and transparency from those who are in charge of their club.

Those currently working behind the scenes appear to be attempting to do just that.

But should they require an example to follow on total commitment to the cause, then they need look no further than the players who served up another pleasing chapter in the team’s recent resurgence.

Regardless of what’s happening behind the scenes, there’s no getting away from that fact a tally of 16 points out of the last available 18 is genuine promotion form.

Five wins and one draw out of the past six games point to a promising future.

So maybe someone should explain that to the men with the money?

Crack on and use a calculator to help illustrate if necessary.

With just one change to the side that ground out a 1-0 win at Millwall in midweek, at least there is continuity out on the pitch as Aaron Mokoena slotted back into the defence to replace the hamstrung Ricardo Rocha.

But perhaps one of the survivors of Pompey’s boom time epitomises the kind of character that is required for the club to sustain a push towards the upper reaches of the Championship this term.

David Nugent – a high-profile signing whose transfer fee could have paid off Sacha Gaydamak nearly three times over – has cut a forlorn figure at times during his spell at Fratton Park.

If the rumours are to be believed, had he answered his phone on transfer-deadline day, Nugent would have been plying his trade for Blackpool right about now.

More by luck than design, the former Preston man stayed at Fratton Park.

But he’s finally starting to show some of the signs of the goalscorer that lurks within.

His finishing has often been a focal point for criticism, which is odd considering he was deemed good enough for England not so long ago.

‘Give him five clear chances and you’ll be lucky if he takes one,’ the moaners will tell you.

But a bit of intelligent work on the training ground, a manager who clearly rates him, some love from the fans and Nugent is suddenly starting to look the part.

With Pompey having edged the early exchanges in the first half but failing to take advantage of a corner count that would have tested Carol Vorderman, the Blues striker so nearly served up the kind of goal that would have people nodding in agreement at a £6m transfer fee.

Cutting in from the left wing, Nugent took aim with a 30-yarder that left Hull City goalkeeper Matt Duke as nothing more than an impressed observer as the ball crashed back off his crossbar and away.

Typical. And there it was again: Nugent’s all-too familiar ‘what do I have to do?’ resigned smile.

But while that was a chance all of his own making, his strike in first-half stoppage-time suggested that a striker had found his craft again.

City carelessly lost possession in the centre circle, John Utaka was alert enough to spot a sizeable gap to aim at and Nugent raced away to bear down on goal.

Only he can answer as to whether some of his fruitless one-on-ones from this season played on his mind as he tore away unopposed.

But the crucial touch of the ball and a jink of the shoulder allowed him to open up the bottom corner and he found it with a confident finish for his fourth goal of the season.

With Pompey deservedly in front at the break and Jamie Ashdown not given anything too taxing to deal with, Cotterill’s side extended their lead within two minutes of the restart.

Dave Kitson was bundled over from behind just outside the box and on-loan defender Greg Halford was given the free-kick duties ahead of Liam Lawrence to fire in the second for his first goal in Pompey colours.

A healthy deflection from the wall played a part in leaving Duke clutching at thin air but nobody in blue seemed to care too much.

From there, three, four and five looked on the cards for a while as Pompey knocked the ball around with confidence. But a rare defensive lapse allowed the classy Nick Barmby to steal in at the far post and nod home Jamie Devitt’s left-wing cross to pave the way for what many predicted would turn into an onslaught for the final half an hour.

In truth, it was nothing of the sort.

Pompey stood firm, marshalled by Mokoena and an improving Ibrahima Sonko, shored up the gaps and soaked up pressure to see the game out with Ashdown’s goal barely threatened again.

There was even time for Hermann Hreidarsson to return to action as a late substitute just to make absolutely sure they were not giving this one up.

When Hermann’s back, you know things are certainly looking up.

So the men in the boots did their bit and it was back over to the men in suits.

See what you can come up with, gents.