Pompey 1 Accrington 0

Adam McGurk scores his 21st-minute winner against Accrington Picture: Joe Pepler

Adam McGurk scores his 21st-minute winner against Accrington Picture: Joe Pepler

Paul Cook

WATCH: Paul Cook in numbers

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The countdown shows 27 days remaining.

An advent calendar not designed to reflect the days until Christmas or the time ticking until Big Ben heralds a new year.

Rather the duration the impressive Marc McNulty has left to serve at Fratton Park.

Well, as part of his initial loan spell from Sheffield United anyway.

In only six matches, the striker has emphatically demonstrated his class to the Fratton faithful to leave them pining for more.

Not merely his goals, of which there are four to date, but also an explosive all-round game which dares to suggest those striking shortcomings have been resolved.

For the flying Scotsman possesses more than just the ability to score – he can create as well.

The sidelined Matt Tubbs once again watched from the stands and witnessed another masterful performance from McNulty yesterday.

Tubbs himself has five goals to his name, yet surely will make a January exit as others display a more effective presence in the 4-2-3-1 system.

Certainly there will be no shortage of takers – whether loan or permanent – for a player whose reputation has not diminished during his year at Pompey.

A return of 14 goals in 40 appearances testifies to that, yet Paul Cook’s side have embarked on a different route.

Aside from McNulty, these days there is also the presence of Caolan Lavery, another fine loan acquisition with three goals in eight appearances.

Parent club Sheffield Wednesday were unwilling to let the youngster be cup-tied against Accrington Stanley, thereby ruling him out of proceedings.

Not that it affected the subsequent positive result – McNulty ensured that.

Adam McGurk was the first-half matchwinner, given a more central role in the attacking three in Lavery’s one-match absence.

However, it was the player known as ‘Sparky’ by those in the game who emerged as man-of-the-match with another sizzling performance.

He laid on the only goal of the FA Cup second-round encounter, he struck the bar, while McGurk spurned a glorious opportunity which would have yielded another excellent assist.

McNulty’s pace, movement and class was a joy to behold at times as Accrington struggled to contain him during a match hampered by wind conditions.

It mattered not he failed to get on the scoresheet, his display was just as decisive as any goal.

Operating ahead of McGurk as the lone striker, he was presented with a more advanced role in the absence of Lavery, although the pair did switch on occasions.

And a crowd of 9,258 saw another eye-catching display from a player who also laid on a goal for Lavery at Wycombe in the previous match.

With a loan spell scheduled to expire on January 3, he has five fixtures remaining. At that point the Blades must decide whether to reclaim their property.

Although boss Nigel Adkins’ had named McNulty in a League One starting line-up just once before allowing him to depart temporarily to Pompey.

It remains to be seen whether the Scot is wanted back at Bramall Lane – certainly the Blues will be doing all they can to extend his stay.

As for McNulty, upon his arrival he spoke of his belief he would remain at Fratton Park until the season’s end. We’ll find out for certain in 27 days.

For his latest trick, though, he helped overcome an in-form Accrington side to lead Paul Cook’s side into the third round of the FA Cup.

Stanley have surprisingly emerged as promotion contenders this season under John Coleman, a former boss of Paul Cook.

In League Two they sit in fourth spot – a point higher than the Blues with a game in hand – to reflect their impressive progress and tough opposition for the hosts.

While the Accrington links in Pompey’s backroom also apply to assistant manager Leam Richardson, an ex-manager and player at the Crown Ground.

Although there was undoubted animosity played out on the pitch at the final whistle between him and Stanley’s assistant manager Jimmy Bell, during an intriguing epilogue.

At one point Bell, while carrying an iPad, took off his coat as tempers frayed and others intervened.

Still, this was McNulty’s day and his contribution ensured the hosts to defeated a well-organised side who also played a full role in an often niggly affair amid blustery weather.

Such was the ferociousness of the wind, for spells the match became a flat affair as playing football because difficult.

Cook had made two changes to the side which came from two-goals down to draw at Wycombe last week, with Gareth Evans recalled in place of the unavailable Lavery.

There was also a run out for Matt Clarke, his first since the 3-1 victory at Cambridge United in October, the Ipswich loanee replaced Christian Burgess, who dropped to the bench.

Partnering 20-year-old Adam Webster in the centre of defence, it was a young feel to the heart of the back four, but the pair stood up superbly.

Aside from a spell of pressure towards the end of the first half, Pompey were comfortable, with Brian Murphy barely involved such was the effectiveness of the players in front.

There was, though, later a tense period of seven minutes of time added on to negotiate after referee Kevin Johnson was forced off injured with only two minutes remaining.

He was replaced by linesman Brett Huxtable, and during that anxious period substitute Terry Gornell planted a far-post header straight at Murphy with the goal beckoning.

An equaliser would have been harsh on Pompey, who should have run out far more comfortable winners.

The breakthrough had arrived in the 21st minute when McNulty galloped down the right with excellent pace and when his cross was not collected by Kyle Bennett, the unmarked McGurk arrived at the back post to net with a left-foot finish.

On 32 minutes McNulty then struck the bar with a header from Ben Davies’ free-kick from the right.

In the second half the striker turned provided again when he squared from the right for McGurk, only to see keeper Jason Mooney save a goal-bound shot with his legs.

Now Pompey await their opposition in tomorrow night’s FA Cup draw.

Although, they face a considerably longer wait to discover whether McNulty will remain at Fratton Park.

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