Norwich 0 - Pompey 2

Brett Pitman. Picture: Joe Pepler

Posh manager wary of Pompey striker’s threat

It's the kind of farce only Pompey can come up with.

Only at Pompey can we be talking about a situation emerging that is likely to wreck the club's charge up the Championship, when we should be bathing in the afterglow of one of the performances of the season.

On a day when it should all have been about celebrating Dave Kitson's return to goalscoring form, purring over David Nugent's match-changing runs and lauding a clean sheet which had been so hard to come by, we are thinking about contractual fears which will undoubtedly wreck any hopes of a play-off bid unless they are resolved quickly.

But this is Pompey. And once again we find ourselves having to draw on the negatives.

A situation which has been bubbling under the surface for a few weeks has now come into sharp focus.

Who would have thought the sight of Richard Hughes ambling around the pitch in his tracksuit 30 minutes before kick-off would be the catalyst for the great Pompey contracts saga to come to light?

Once it became evident the perfectly-fit Scot was not on an already undermanned bench at Carrow Road, the touchpaper was lit.

And the flames which are emerging from the mess of some scandalous deals being handed out in recent seasons, could now engulf any hopes of a bid to make the top six.

The fact that Michael Brown finds himself with a similar clause inserted in his contract means he is now in the same boat as Hughes.

Pompey cannot afford to play either man and activate a new deal on their current Premier League wages.

Now the fear among supporters has to be how many more skeletons are going to jump out of the contractual closet and hinder the Blues' undoubted upward mobility.

Chief executive David Lampitt is the man who finds himself in the unenviable situation of trying to re-negotiate terms with both players.

The pressure is on to significantly reduce the club's wage bill as part of the terms of the club's Company Voluntary Arrangement.

But how willing are players going to be to take hits which amount to a reduction of more than two-thirds, as is rumoured to be the case with Hughes?

It's an inherited conundrum that Lampitt has to come up with an answer to quickly.

Just how alarming the situation is can be summed up by the fact Pompey could be without Hughes, Brown and Liam Lawrence for the trip to Leeds in a fortnight's time.

That's without any further injuries or suspensions coming along.

Of course, we are all far too used to off-the-field issues dominating at Fratton Park but it grates that that's where the focus lies after a storming second-half showing at Carrow Road.

Just how that success unfolded owes everything to the tactical acumen of Steve Cotterill.

After a first-half display in which his team were increasingly forced on the back foot, Cotterill identified the problems stopping his team from getting a foothold in the game – and then went about remedying them.

Norwich's narrow diamond formation was allowing the home side to outnumber and dominate Pompey centrally.

A switch to a 4-5-1 formation, with Lawrence pulled inside from the right and David Nugent thrown on to the flank changed the face of the game – and Pompey never looked back.

They were aided no end by the barnstorming second-half display of Nugent in a role he admits he is not entirely comfortable in.

The Scouser's turbo-charged runs, which were pivotal in both goals, spoke of a man playing at the peak of his powers.

Nugent is undoubtedly in the form of his Pompey career. Could it be the form of his life, too?

He capitalised wonderfully on the extra space he was afforded out wide by Pompey's change in shape.

The big beneficiary of that was Dave Kitson, who ended his run of eight games without a goal by firing home with 17 minutes left after Nugent had tore the heart out of the Norwich defence.

Pompey, by that stage, had the game in their palm of their hand after a first-half in which Paul Lambert's men had progressively looked more threatening.

Their lively little front man Simeon Jackson twice squandered fine opportunities, and Jamie Ashdown had to make a series of fine saves to keep the score level.

The fact the Pompey keeper was there to do that at all was another example of the character evident in this group of players, coming days after Ashdown underwent an appendix operation.

The Blues were teetering like Amir Khan in the 10th round in his Las Vegas debut on Saturday, as they held on to the break.

But they also matched the Bolton lionheart's resolve to see it out and then come through with similar majesty.

Liam Lawrence served notice of the grip Pompey were taking on proceedings when he whistled a 25-yarder past the upright five minutes after the restart.

Pompey's assertiveness and quality of passing was increasingly evident, with Greg Halford doubling up with Nugent down the right.

But equally apparent and worthy of celebration was their defensive resolve, with Ricardo Rocha magnificent throughout.

Cotterill's side have shown porous characteristics this season, something the Pompey boss believes could now be difficult to shake-off.

So their second shut-out in 16 outings was something to rejoice over, although it appeared to somehow be lost in the cooing over the Championship entertainers' attacking quality.

Kitson's late, late clearance of Elliott Ward's goalbound header was another example of Pompey's united graft to keep the ball out of Ashdown's net.

Then came the bubbling, brimming energy of Nugent, who again delivered a Canary carve-up with his run through the heart of his opponents.

Leon Barnett had no choice but to take him down, and then responded to a second yellow card by throwing the ball at referee Simon Hooper – an action which will surely bring further sanction.

It was of little consequence to Pompey, though, as Halford emphatically dispatched the spot-kick which sealed the deal.

He now serves a one-game ban after picking up his fifth yellow card of his season, an example of the kind of omission this squad is going to struggle to cover for much longer.

That throws the onus back on to Lampitt in the coming days, with a test of his ability to deal with another of the legacies of Pompey's grim past key.

How it's resolved will decide whether this was a result which fired Cotterill's men back into play-off contention or not.