Leeds 1 Pompey 0

Danny Pugh's goal was enough to sink Pompey
Danny Pugh's goal was enough to sink Pompey
Samantha Quayle. Picture: Jordan Hampton

Flying start for Pompey with Cardiff swept aside

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Dave Bassett once staged Sheffield United’s Christmas Party in August.

The theory was based upon the annual tendency of his Blades side to start performing after the festive period.

It worked. They remained in the old first division and reached the semi-final of the FA Cup that season.

How Pompey could do with stumbling across such an effective solution to their current predicament.

After all, this is a side which is consistently producing its best form during the second half of matches.

Yet finds itself unable to make that pressure count.

The obvious answer would be to recruit a goalscorer to solve that absence of a cutting edge.

Alternatively, perhaps Steve Cotterill should wind forward all the dressing room clocks, tinker with the Rolexes and adjust the iPhones.

It might fool the players into thinking the first half was actually the second period.

Any means necessary to get that squad of his to perform for 90 minutes during a worrying period of results.

At Leeds on Saturday it was the same old story, same old result.

As ever, the opening 45 minutes was abject, a time for damage limitation.

Then Dr Jekyll tends to come out and play around 4pm.

The worrying thing is, during the past week they have failed to rescue a result from their fixtures.

Still, there is no getting away from the fact the Blues tend to excel in the second half of matches at present.

At Elland Road, after the interval, they moved through the gears to largely silence the home crowd and send the Leeds side scurrying for cover.

Equipped with half-time substitute Kanu and a system reshuffle, the visitors were the side on top, full of attacking threat.

Come the final whistle, the second-best hosts and their followers were engulfed by a wave of relief.

Similarly on Tuesday night, Peterborough United fled into the night with three points nestling in their swag bags.

Bloodied, battered and bruised, they somehow clambered off the canvas to deliver a low blow and steal a victory.

It was a result as unjust as they come.

Then again, the Ferguson family have made a profitable habit of snatching positive results in the final flings of a match.

Sadly for Pompey, it was not a one-off. Not even a two-off.

Middlesbrough, Brighton, Bristol City, Cardiff, West Ham – all featured marked improvements in displays during the second half.

But not one yielded a victory.

Sadly for Pompey fans, by that stage in their last two matches they have already been behind.

And for a team so short of goals, it’s a head start which can often be too much to reel in.

Which is where the need for a goalscorer comes in.

Still, such an inability to compete for 90 minutes has sent their results on a downward spiral.

It is no coincidence all six defeats so far this season have been inflicted by a one-goal margin.

There have been no hammerings, no thrashings, no thumpings.

Cotterill’s men have been in matches from start to finish but lacked enough consistency to reap the points.

Therein lies the problem for the Blues boss as he looks to swiftly turn around Fratton Park fortunes.

Sure enough, Saturday was the perfect case in point.

It was Danny Pugh who opened the scoring on 14 minutes.

By that stage the hosts had already staged an onslaught which had Pompey’s defence creaking.

Nonetheless, they could have done without gifting the on-loan midfielder the breakthrough.

Robert Snodgrass’ corner was delivered from the right and there was the unmarked Pugh to simply nod the ball home from six yards out.

It turned out Greg Halford had been designated to mark him but allowed him to slip away.

It was a fact acknowledged by the Blues defender on Twitter later that night, accompanied by an apology.

Yet, ultimately, that lapse proved crucial, as Pugh’s finish was to be the only goal of the game.

Not that Leeds’ first-half display didn’t deserve to accrue a bigger scoreline.

Their counter-attacking and the ability of Snodgrass and Pugh on either flank posed constant problems.

Inevitably roared on by the Elland Road crowd, they surged forwards – and Cotterill’s men staggered towards the respite of half-time.

Curiously, though, for all that dominance, league debutant Stephen Henderson – in for the dropped Jamie Ashdown – was barely tested during the opening 45 minutes.

At the other end, Halford also went close three times to levelling.

On 28 minutes, Jason Pearce headed Liam Lawrence’s free-kick back across goal and Halford’s header was brilliantly parried by Andy Lonergan.

When Erik Huseklepp flung a cross back into the danger zone, Halford again rose highest, this time planting a header against the bar.

Then, on the stroke of half-time, a Halford free-kick forced the Leeds keeper into another stop.

Not that Pompey deserved anything from that opening 45 minutes.

But those isolated moments highlighted the vulnerability of a Leeds defence which has come under fire from fans – and their manager – this season.

Still, the break arrived and the Blues headed in grateful to still be a mere one-goal down.

Sure enough, the improvement came, with Kanu – introduced for Bjorn Helge Riise – asked to sit behind Benjani.

The impact was immediate, the visitors stepping up their game considerably.

On 49 minutes, Liam Lawrence’s ball from the right put David Norris clean through.

However, his touch was poor and, with just Lonergan to beat, he ran the ball out of play.

It was all Pompey, though, in a remarkable turnaround, who suddenly had Leeds on the back foot.

As the home crowd grew edgy, Halford clipped in a ball to Joel Ward, who scooped his shot over from eight yards out. For all their possession, though, clear-cut opportunities were continuing to elude.

In the end, it was Leeds clinging on for dear life as their fans willed on the final whistle.

Yet again a moral victory for Pompey based on the second half.

Yet again, however, a tangible victory eluded them.

And that is the most important statistic of all.