Pompey 0 West Ham 1

Pompey defender Jason Pearce thinks he has scored only for West Ham goalkeeper Robert Green to pull off a brilliant finger-tip save at the near post. Pompey v West Ham. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (110140-4361)
Pompey defender Jason Pearce thinks he has scored only for West Ham goalkeeper Robert Green to pull off a brilliant finger-tip save at the near post. Pompey v West Ham. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (110140-4361)
Dion Donohue Picture: Jason Chadwick

Midfield could be the home for Pompey signing-in-waiting

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Kevin Friend wreaked havoc on 90 minutes of football.

The concern is the aftershocks will be felt weeks later.

The Leicestershire referee is no stranger to Fratton Park controversy.

It was he who was infamously confronted by Avram Grant at half-time against Sunderland.

That was after a dire performance during which he sent off Hassan Yebda by mistake before reversing his decision.

Last season he drew criticism from the Blues’ camp after officiating their fixture at Reading.

On that occasion Ricardo Rocha was dismissed for a foul on Shane Long outside the box and bizarrely a penalty was awarded.

Then there was Saturday.

A debatable penalty, an arguable sending off and it was game, set and match West Ham.

The Fratton faithful had already booed Friend off at half-time.

His display in the next 45 minutes was just as abject, prompting Blues skipper Liam Lawrence to confront him at the final whistle.

Even the mild-mannered Marko Futacs was flinging his arms in his direction, wildly gesticulating as he walked past.

Pompey boss Michael Appleton was highly diplomatic in his post-match address, although the anger was burning deep within.

For him, it was not merely a football match which had been lost.

He was also facing up to the bleak prospect of being without David Norris for three matches.

And the smallest squad in the Football League can ill-afford to be without key players for such a hefty period.

Aaron Mokoena had already limped off with a hamstring injury.

Such is the size of Pompey’s squad, Appleton had been forced to play him despite complaining of a slight strain in the build-up.

His appearance merely aggravated the problem and he joins Luke Varney and Ricardo Rocha in the treatment room.

Then there was Greg Halford, laid low by a sickness bug and robbed of sleep the previous night.

Ultimately, his withdrawal late in the second half granted West Wittering youngster Adam Webster a debut.

Agony for Halford, although he should be fine for next weekend’s trip to Cardiff.

In addition, Appleton’s options remain hampered by Joe Mattock being retained by West Bromwich Albion.

An unused substitute for them once again on Saturday – and still no definite return.

Of course, Hermann Hreidarsson’s departure for Coventry is expected to allow the Pompey boss to secure a loan recruit.

Regardless, his threadbare numbers have been weakened further by Norris’ sudden exit against the Hammers.

The Football League’s tiniest squad has shrunk a little further heading into fixtures against Cardiff, Peterborough and Hull.

All thanks to the familiar figure of Friend.

It was in the 56th minute when the decision was made as Winston Reid brought the ball towards the halfway line.

Norris came across the pitch and attempted to put in a block but instead caught the defender from the side a split second after the ball had gone.

A foul, unquestionably. Yet instantly Friend produced a red card and the midfielder was off.

West Ham’s players had plenty to say for themselves during the 90 minutes, however, not even they had demanded a dismissal.

The sense of injustice was palpable among the manager and players alike after the match.

Sobering, though, there is the danger an appeal could increase Norris’ ban to four matches if deemed frivolous.

It is a potential gamble Pompey have still to decide whether to take.

For Pompey fans, the evidence provided by the Football League Show on Saturday night was certainly inconclusive.

The incident was not even debated in the studio, ensuring question marks remain.

In contrast, Appleton saw several replays after the match and branded the decision as ‘harsh’.

Now it remains to be seen whether he will stick or twist over that crucial Friend decision.

Of course, it wasn’t merely the Norris moment which drew ire towards Saturday’s match official from manager, players and fans alike.

The match-winner came courtesy of a penalty which was also a subject of deep debate among those present.

Granted, Tal Ben Haim did appear to have both hands on the body of Reid as the ball fell to him inside the penalty area.

His subsequent tumble prompted Friend to point to the spot for, certainly, one of the softer penalties you will see.

As if to compound the problem, there looked to be three more reasonable shouts before then – including a cast-iron West Ham appeal.

All were waved away by Friend – but not the one in the 24th minute.

Up stepped Mark Noble and despite Stephen Henderson getting both hands to his shot, the powerful effort found the net.

By that stage Halford had already sent a free header at the far post over the bar after Lawrence’s cross had teed him up.

In addition, twice Friend dismissed shouts for a penalty following challenges by James Tomkins on Futacs.

Pompey finished that first half strongly, with Lawrence drawing a smart save from Rob Green after cutting in and drilling a shot from the right. From the resulting corner, it appeared as though Jason Pearce had netted when he steered a left-foot effort towards the near post.

Except Green came from nowhere to fingertip the ball around the post for a stunning piece of goalkeeping.

Then, on 56 minutes, came Norris’ sending off.

To the credit of Pompey’s players, they refused to surrender, irrespective of their numerical disadvantage.

There was to be no late, late collapse as witnessed by the harsh Stamford Bridge scoreline a week earlier.

Futacs went close with a thunderous left-foot shot, while there were appeals for handball inside the Hammers’ box in the final few minutes after an aerial duel between Benjani and Joey O’Brien.

There was, however, to be no dramatic comeback by the 10 men.

Appleton opted not to speak to Friend afterwards. Sending him to Coventry – along with Hreidarsson if you like.

Except, while the Iceland hero will be afforded a massive welcome any time he returns to Fratton Park, Pompey fans will be hoping Friend never darkens their doorstep again.