Pompey 1 Preston 1

David Cotterill heads past Iain Turner but had his effort ruled out for offside
David Cotterill heads past Iain Turner but had his effort ruled out for offside
Leam Richardson. Picture: Joe Pepler

Richardson: Wigan only focused on Pompey win

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So much for the season petering out into nothingness.

Granted, Pompey’s play-off dreams are over, even if the manager and his players stubbornly refuse to admit it.

Refreshingly, the fight still remains for them – a trait which should be applauded no matter what the improbable challenge remains in front for the Blues.

Steve Cotterill has targeted six wins out of six – not even those who took a punt on Ballabriggs in the National will feel lucky enough to have a bet on that one.

Still, there will be nothing mundane over the final remaining weeks, the ownership situation has ensured that.

A poor first half against Preston on Saturday saw sections of the Blues support boo as the players headed into the interval.

Yet at times when the game was bad, there were enough whispers and text messages flying around to make matters interesting.

According to some, Convers Sports Initiative’s takeover was completed at precisely the same time as Cotterill’s troops were attempting to maintain their play-off push.

Certainly news to those who should be aware of such matters at Pompey.

It turned out to have emanated from a number of stewards at the ground who had heard something – and we all know how rapidly Fratton rumours spread.

As it happened, such suggestions, wherever the source, were a touch premature.

So much for a humdrum end to a campaign which has been anything but with its cherished highs and depressing lows.

Of course, the generally-held opinion is matters will be wrapped up this week. Well, in theory, anyway.

The oracle that is the South China Morning Post, Balram Chainrai’s favourite vehicle for his words of wisdom, is predicting an even earlier timeframe than that.

That may be so but, apparently, proof of funds still needs to be presented. That is according to yet another rumour.

There are plenty of them about at present as the whole process reaches an intriguing end game.

What is a cast-iron certainty, however, is nothing has been ratified yet by the Football League – and let’s hope they do not cut corners.

This football club needs a rigorous fit-and-proper-person process, just as much as it requires new ownership and a fresh start.

Amid all the rumours, Pompey’s players took on Preston on Saturday aiming to keep their season alive.

Greg Halford’s second-half equaliser ensured they added a point to their tally for their troubles on a sun-drenched afternoon at Fratton Park.

Yet in terms of the play-offs, clearly that is not enough and, on the football side at least, the campaign will now melt away.

That is not taking anything away from Cotterill’s excellent achievements of steering his side into the promotion frame in the first place.

For long periods of another season hampered by sideshows and farces away from the field of play, relegation looked on the cards.

Thankfully, that issue was comfortably negotiated a while ago. Now a top-10 finish should be the excellent goal.

Certainly, Pompey can forget the play-offs – an ambition which, in truth, was ended by this 1-1 draw against Preston.

With Cardiff, Swansea, Burnley and Norwich on the horizon, you can dismiss any notion of winning those remaining six matches.

Publicly, the club are not yet ready to throw in the towel, yet we all know it now represents an impossible dream.

It would have been hard to begrudge Preston’s point, which shattered those aspirations on Saturday, for they fully deserved a new-found tag of play-off killers.

The excellent Iain Hume gave them the lead, definitely against the Fratton script.

On 32 minutes, Eddie Johnson launched a counter attack down the left, and when Aaron Mokoena delivered a rash offside plan, Hume pounced.

The South African international charged up field and Preston’s top-scorer found himself clean through before producing a composed finish past Jamie Ashdown.

It capped a poor return to the side for Mokoena in the place of the suspended Ricardo Rocha.

In the game’s build-up, Cotterill had claimed the Portuguese defender had been his best player over the previous 10 matches.

Clearly, Mokoena struggled to fill that suspension-induced gap during a ring-rusty showing for what was his first start for more than two months.

Unsurprisingly, the former Blackburn defender was substituted in the 59th minute, with Hermann Hreidarsson moving over from left-back to partner Halford instead.

Just a minute after Hume’s opener came the moment which had Cotterill reflecting on post-match, even if there was not too much dispute among supporters and players at the time.

Halford’s long throw from the left was flicked on by Mokoena and there was David Cotterill to head home at the far post from close range.

Celebrations were swiftly cut short, though, by the linesman’s flag who deemed the Welshman was offside.

Yet afterwards, Pompey’s boss was adamant it should have stood, having studied a video replay.

Nonetheless, the hosts struggled to impose themselves in that opening 45 minutes, which saw some of their own followers boo them off at the break.

Admittedly, they did improve after the interval, but it was only after Halford’s equaliser when they really did rattle up a few gears.

In the 62 minute, Hayden Mullins – corner taker in place of the injured Liam Lawrence – swung one in from the right.

And there was Halford darting in at the near post to plant a header past keeper Iain Turner.

That lifted the Fratton Park atmosphere considerably as the Blues began to step up their game in the hunt for the winner.

Halford failed to net with two subsequent headers, while David Nugent volleyed just wide.

In the end, Pompey ran out of time as Preston collected a thoroughly deserved point in their quest to remain in the Championship.

For Pompey, it was a disappointing end to their play-off hopes.

Still, at least there is the little matter of prospective new owners to get excited about over the coming weeks.

And, in terms of the future of the football club, that can be the most important result of all of this season.