David Nugent believes a fit-again Ricardo Rocha has helped Pompey rediscover their missing mean streak.
The experienced Portuguese centre-back returned to the first team for the recent 2-0 win at Doncaster Rovers and has now played every minute of the club’s three straight wins.
With three clean sheets also registered in the process, Rocha’s central partnership with Greg Halford looks increasingly promising, with skipper Aaron Mokoena forced to bide his time on the bench following his recent work permit wrangle.
And while Rocha turned in a near faultless display in the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, Nugent has been heartened by the general defensive improvements, with every player in the side playing an important part.
He said: ‘That’s three clean sheets on the bounce now.
‘Since Ricardo has come back in he’s been really solid alongside Greg and the two full-backs as well.
‘We look really mean back there now. We don’t look like conceding the three goals per game like we did earlier in the season.’
The former Benfica and Spurs defender has struggled for full fitness for much of the campaign, as he’s battled a succession of niggling injuries.
But he has looked much sharper since regaining his place in the side this time around and has added some much-needed composure and a calm authority to the defence. And with the improvements at the back, Nugent believes it has also played a significant role in boosting the team’s attacking strengths.
Nugent said: ‘There have been a lot of partnerships back there but Ricardo has been a rock since he came back in.
‘He’s injury-free now and hopefully it stays that way.
‘He has done really well alongside Greg back there.
‘With those two doing so well, it allows the full-backs to bomb on.
‘We’ve got Ritchie (de Laet) on one side and even Hermann (Hreidarsson), aged 36, is still bombing up the wing. Fair play to him.’
While Jamie Ashdown was often left exposed at times this season, the Blues goalkeeper has had precious little to do on his past three outings.
And Nugent has seen the statistics that would suggest that extra effort is paying off.
Nugent said: There is a lot more teamwork and we’re taking that out on the pitch.
‘Our stats are showing that we’re doing more running and it seems that if we run more, we win the games.
‘But it’s nice to keep another clean sheet and take that into the Ipswich game.’