Pompey 1 Derby County 1

David Nugent celebrates his leveller
David Nugent celebrates his leveller
Brett Pitman celebrates scoring from the penalty spot Picture: Joe Pepler

Pitman to the rescue for Pompey

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In a period when perceived lip service and widespread mistrust continue to inhibit Pompey, at least David Nugent is as good as his word.

The Blues striker had long pledged he would see out the season, spurning the advances of any suitors should it be required.

Considering the lengths both Blackpool and the club went to in an attempt to bundle him out of the Fratton Park exit door in August, many had their doubts.

Yet here he is, a Pompey player and the transfer window shut.

Of course, it remains highly unlikely he will sign a new contract when his existing deal expires in the summer, even if he doesn’t concede it publicly.

Still, in the here and now, Nugent remains a crucial part of a side struggling to swim clear of the relegation whirlpool which threatens to suck them in.

And how thankful we all should be for that fulfilled promise.

It was three-and-a-half years ago when the former England burst onto the Pompey scene.

Derby formed the opposition in that 2007-08 season opener, which also included John Utaka among the debutants.

Weeks later they almost captured him on loan as Harry Redknapp declared he had bought a pup and tried to move him on quick sharpish.

Well, the outcast is enjoying a remarkable renaissance under Steve Cotterill.

How fitting, then, it was against the Rams on Saturday he should further enhance his blossoming Blues reputation with a priceless goal.

In the final minute, Jonathan Hogg pumped a ball into the box with Shaun Barker rising above Kanu to head clear.

But it fell straight to Nugent, who controlled it and delivered an exquisite volley in one swift movement.

Stephen Bywater had no chance with a goal of stunning quality completely out of context in an abject match.

For the 25-year-old, it was strike number nine in a season which keeps getting better and better as he maintains his ascent from the pits of his career.

Quite where Pompey would be without his goals isn’t worth contemplating, let alone if he had broken his word and upped sticks for a challenge elsewhere.

The main concern now is prising him from the left wing where he has been forced to play since Utaka’s departure.

It’s a role Nugent loathes and negates the central striking threat which has provided most of his goals this season.

But needs must, especially considering the loss of the Nigerian and lack of flexibility among the remaining attacking players in Cotterill’s threadbare squad.

Remarkably enough, Utaka’s transfer window sale continues to be a major bone of contention among many Blues followers.

It was certainly referred to by little over 100 fans joined SOS Pompey noisily protesting in Frogmore Road before Saturday’s kick-off.

Inevitably, chairman Balram Chainrai bore the brunt of their anger, as did chief executive David Lampitt.

Chainrai’s constant refusal to acknowledge the supporters means he will never win complete trust, while Lampitt continues to have his detractors no matter how much he talks.

The criminal absence of any permanent transfer window arrivals has done little to enhance either of their reputations and claims of ‘stabilising’ the club.

Meanwhile, the selling off of boo-boy favourite Utaka was also mentioned in a song by the demonstrators, centring on the continuing saga over who was responsible for his sale.

In Cotterill’s eyes, it was not for footballing reasons and instead ensured his squad has shrunk further during the transfer window and his task made that much more difficult.

Not that Utaka’s absence was responsible for the uninspired 1-1 draw with Derby.

However, the lack of attacking options from a defensive-minded bench unquestionably hinder the Blues boss’ ability to change matches in his favour.

As it was, Saturday’s fixture was spoiled as a spectacle by swirling winds and driving rain as both sides struggled to play football.

Considering it also involved two out-of-form teams clearly lacking in confidence, it made painful viewing at times.

No question about it, a Derby victory would have been unjust, netted by Steve Davies with arguably their only attempt on target.

But the hosts fared little better, equalising in the 90th minute with a rare effort themselves, despite bossing most of the possession.

Still, for so long it appeared another piece of poor Pompey defending was going to settle the encounter.

Tomasz Cywka galloped down the left on 34 minutes and his flighted cross picked out Davies, who connected with a spectacular scissor-kick which gave Jamie Ashdown no chance.

The fact Davies was completely unmarked inside the six-yard box represented another defensive shortcoming from Cotterill’s men.

Of course, Pompey had chances to score both before and after that impressive strike.

Greg Halford blazed an early attempt wide following a Liam Lawrence corner, while Nugent found himself clean through only to be denied by a brilliant last-ditch tackle from Miles Addison.

In the second half, Cotterill found himself settling into the directors’ box having been politely asked by referee Neil Swarbrick under threat of a sending off.

The Blues boss obliged, meaning he will not now face a touchline ban.

He had already carried out his half-time team talk by then, rallying his troops to the point where they were far better after the break. Although that wasn’t saying much.

Lawrence went close, while a marvellous through ball from the outstanding Hogg saw Bywater narrowly beat Nugent to the chase.

Then came that moment of magic from Nugent in the 90th minute which clinched only a second point of 2011.

Even after that Kanu and Aaron Mokoena went close as the hosts piled on the pressure.

But a draw it was, making it 10 matches without a win and no home victory since October 30 against Nottingham Forest.

It remains to be seen whether there will be any new faces on show through the emergency loan system come next weekend’s visit to Doncaster.

Otherwise, Pompey’s top scorer could once again find himself employed on the left wing and asked to keep performing his goal-scoring heroics.