Magnanimous words from ‘gutted’ play-off hero

Paul Robinson, left, with Pompey boss Paul Cook during pre-season training last summer Picture: Joe Pepler
Paul Robinson, left, with Pompey boss Paul Cook during pre-season training last summer Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey midfielder Carl Baker Picture: Joe Pepler

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Paul Robinson could have well and truly stuck the boot in on Paul Cook.

And, in many ways, you wouldn’t have blamed him for doing so.

Made Pompey captain under the new boss and then abruptly jettisoned in a matter of weeks.

Ten months ago Robinson left PO4 with a very heavy heart, after being effectively told he had no future at the club.

‘Gutted’, was how he described himself as he departed up the A3 for Wimbledon.

Crestfallen and devastated were other adjectives which sprung to mind after hearing him speak emotionally about his exit.

Robinson was certain Cook was on the brink of a memorable campaign at Fratton Park. One he was desperate to be central to, after being part of the disappointing season under Andy Awford.

Fast forward to Monday and the date we had earmarked as a Pompey day of celebration, and it was the 34-year-old who was joyous at the home of football.

AFC Wimbledon’s indefatigable and celebrated rise from the Combined Counties League culminated in their sixth promotion to League One against Plymouth.

And there was Robbo at the heart of it. Heading, kicking and defending for his life to secure the Dons’ promotion

It was a result which brought an outpouring of appreciation from Blues supporters, with most of them shocked when his departure was announced.

No doubt, the fact it was Pompey’s play-off conquerors who were vanquished by Robinson’s side had much to do with it.

But there was a genuine delight at the centre-half producing a man-of-the-match performance at Wembley to repel the Pilgrims.

In his time at Fratton Park, the Londoner – who has family from the area – had established himself as a fans’ favourite. A man with exactly the sort of qualities appreciated by Pompey folk.

It was to be an ultimately disappointing 2014-15 campaign, but those who witnessed it knew that had little to do with Robinson.

He was one of the very few who could hold his head high.

The fact his final act in royal blue saw him sidelined for two months as he fractured his cheekbone heading a ball off the line against Luton, summed up his Pompey performances.

It was the sort of commitment which saw him named the players’ player of the year at the club’s end-of-season dinner – ahead of Jed Wallace.

Cook’s arrival as manager shortly after the lowest Football League finish in the Blues’ history suggested a player overhaul was imminent.

But Robinson was one of the few assets which remained of use moving forward. Or so it seemed.

It certainly appeared the case when pre-season got under way.

Robinson was installed as club captain with a glowing endorsement from his manager after turning down a move away from the club.

Three weeks later his Pompey career was over.

So what happened in that intervening period for such an abrupt turnaround to occur?

A rusty pre-season for Robinson had much to do with it, no doubt, as Cook undertook a rapid assessment of the options at his disposal.

The sight of Bognor teenager Alfie Rutherford leaving Robinson on the deck and firing home at Nyewood Lane was enough to set off alarm bells for his manager.

By the time the trip to Woking had come around, Cook had decided the former Millwall man wasn’t for him.

Robinson was dropped to the bench and informed he was free to organise a move.

The defender admitted his pre-season form hadn’t been the best, but it was still a shock to hear he wasn’t wanted.

No doubt, after catching glimpse of Matt Clarke at Ipswich and weighing up the partnership of Christian Burgess and Adam Webster, Cook believed he had the kind of defenders which fitted in with his football principles.

There was also an element of anyone at the club being tainted by what had happened previously.

It still didn’t stop angst at his exit reverberating around supporters.

‘I’m gutted and it will be a bit of a surprise to people that I’m leaving Portsmouth,’ Robinson told The News.

There was a handshake between manager and player, however, and a classy conclusion to what could have been a messy chapter.

So, perhaps, it was not surprising to hear Robinson’s magnanimous words this week.

It was his season which had ended in glory at Wembley after Cook was left desolate and emotional at Home Park.

It is Robinson who will be playing League One football instead of the manager who didn’t fancy him.

Yet, there was only mutual respect and heartfelt words of disappointment for his former employers.

Robinson told how it was Cook who was the first to offer congratulations at making it to Wembley, a gesture which meant a lot to him.

His old boss probably realises Robinson is the kind of player he could’ve done with this season.

Cook has hinted as much, and his words of sacrificing footballing principles for robust results support it.

Hindsight is 20-20, though, and the Pompey boss has owned up to mistakes his predecessors would never admit.

And Robinson, for his part, could only echo the same emotion felt on his departure.

He wanted to play his old club at Wembley, so, if he did lose it would’ve been tempered by happiness for Pompey.

‘I’m gutted for Portsmouth,’ Robinson said.

‘But you’ve got an excellent manager there and I have every belief Portsmouth will come back stronger next season.’