Old Friend and Long brace conspire against Pompey

Shane Long puts Reading in front from the penalty spot
Shane Long puts Reading in front from the penalty spot
Pompey manager Kenny Jackett Picture: Joe Pepler

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It took 16 players nine matches over 36 days to build Pompey’s play-off charge.

It took one referee to bring it crashing down.

Kevin Friend already had previous with Portsmouth Football Club.

Only last season his Sunderland horror show at Fratton Park incensed even the mild-mannered Avram Grant to the extent he earned himself a touchline ban.

It was a half-time on-the-pitch confrontation which also helped the former Blues boss win the affection of the Fratton faithful.

Now Friend has established himself as a serial offender following his Madejski Stadium antics which have potentially shattered those play-off aspirations.

The defining moment occurred in the 36th minute.

Brian Howard’s deep pass from the left fell straight into the path of Shane Long as he broke clear.

The striker cut across last-man Ricardo Rocha, only to be sent sprawling to the ground by the defender.

There can be little complaint over Rocha’s straight red card – certainly Steve Cotterill nor Liam Lawrence were disputing that particular decision post-match.

But Friend’s awarding of a penalty ensured another entry on his Pompey rap sheet.

Replays comprehensively supported on-pitch protests that the offence was committed outside the area.

Bafflingly, Friend didn’t even consult his linesman before drawing his conclusion.

As it was, when play resumed a minute later, Shane Long stepped up to net his second goal of the game and effectively settle the destination of the points.

There was to be no coming back from a Pompey side who, until that point, had wasted a glut of goal-scoring opportunities.

The fact they now also had a numerical disadvantage for the remaining 53 minutes to claw back a two-goal deficit ensured it was effectively game over.

To think it was a scenario reached because of one appalling decision by a referee.

The bigger picture, of course, makes that mistake even more unpalatable.

The Blues still remain six points adrift of the play-off places but games are running out in order to close that gap.

In the process, on Saturday they suffered defeat to play-off rivals who now look certain to claim one of the four spots up for grabs.

Apparently, at half-time Friend admitted to Cotterill he had made a mistake.

That was entirely down to the Blues boss producing exhibit A in the form of video evidence on a laptop of that fateful penalty incident.

That will offer little comfort, though, to the 4,000 visiting supporters who provided such magnificent vocal support.

Pompey may yet find a way into that play-off gang – it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.

With Fratton Park visits of Preston and Coventry coming up, they possess matches to swiftly get back on track.

The sight of many of rivals, such as Burnley and Nottingham Forest, continuing to stutter is also heartening.

But, unquestionably, such ambitions received a massive body blow in the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.

And after all the hard work and heroics performed by the Pompey management and players of late, it is all rather hard to take.

As costly as Friend’s error was, though, it has to be said Cotterill’s men contributed to their own downfall.

It was Jamie Ashdown’s gaffe which gifted Reading a 30th-minute lead in the first place.

The keeper appeared to have Long’s shot from distance covered, only for him to misjudge the bounce of the ball as it travelled on by and into the net.

Certainly, the match official wasn’t to blame on that occasion.

Likewise, Friend cannot take the rap for the visitors’ embarrassing inability to score at the other end.

Pompey could comfortably have been three goals ahead by the time Reading broke the deadlock during that frustrating first half.

Returning former Royals hero Dave Kitson was the chief culprit, missing a string of chances to leave the travelling hordes howling.

His worst came on six minutes when Lawrence’s left-wing cross found him unmarked six yards out.

But he failed to connect properly with his header and simply glanced the ball wide for a goal-kick.

Still the scoring opportunities came.

Another Kitson header, this time from Greg Halford’s free-kick, went wide, while a half-volley from David Cotterill’s cross was miscued and easily dealt with.

In between, home keeper Alex McCarthy pulled off a stunning stop to foil the striker as he followed up after David Nugent had been denied.

Then there was Jonathan Hogg, breaking into the box to receive Lawrence’s pass, only to spoon a left-foot shot wide when he should have done better.

Great chances which came to nothing – and how Cotterill’s troops were made to suffer.

By 37 minutes they were two goals down and one man down, facing a minor miracle to get a point out of the match.

After the break, the 10-men pushed forward, led by a three-pronged attack of Lawrence, Nugent and Kitson, which oozed danger.

Yet, despite their threat, nothing other than half-chances materialised as the Royals remained comfortable at the back.

Another Kitson header over, a Hayden Mullins shot striking Kitson and a goalmouth scramble was the closest the visitors got to reducing the deficit.

There did remain one bright moment as the day reached its inevitable conclusion, however.

Danny Webber’s 85th-minute introduction marked his first appearance for one year and a week following an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

It was an entrance warmly received by the Pompey fans – his name being chanted at one point. That was certainly a better reception than former owner Sulaiman Al Fahim received after being spotted sat among the fans.

Apparently, a few choice words were repeatedly said in the direction of the former owner throughout the game before he shuffled out of the ground early with rumours he was confronted outside.

Still, it was a second defeat in a 10-game spell which had improbably lifted Pompey from relegation contenders to the play-off challengers.

There remain seven matches for them to maintain that push following Saturday’s blow.

Let’s just hope a certain Kevin Friend is not earmarked to officiate any of them.