Pompey 1 Reading 1

Milan Lalkovic. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey winger out until the new year

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Along Fratton Way, a billboard has popped up bordering Sacha Gaydamak’s car park. Inevitably eye-catching in both size and impact, the tag line reads ‘There is no plan B’.

The poster is advertising the wares of the new A-Team film – yet its timing and location could not have been more apt.

Change is in the air at Fratton Park and on Saturday the smell was unmistakable.

More importantly, those 16,497 supporters present could even see it if they managed to crane their necks to glance towards the centre of the south stand.

You see, Andrew Andronikou’s long-professed and at times controversial plan B has been put into action.

Balram Chainrai was always the supposed safety net if no buyer for the club could be found. Now he is preparing himself to catch it.

Fittingly, those behind the oft-trumpeted plan B were present in the Blues’ directors’ box to witness the 1-1 draw with Reading.

If rumours are to be believed, so were plan C, plan D and plan E, with other interested parties purported to also be present.

The surprise attendance of Terry Brady and one-time owner-elect Brian Howe certainly gives birth to several theories, no matter how coincidental their turning out may be.

Regardless, it seems Chainrai’s second seizure of the club is imminent according to David Lampitt, with it bringing some short-term stability.

As for Steve Cotterill, the side he fielded against Reading was not so much his A-Team but his only team.

He didn’t even have the comfort of a plan B once John Utaka limped out of action after 17 minutes.

While defender Joel Ward was asked come off the bench to play an attacking midfielder role, the three remaining substitutes gave Cotterill even less options.

Little wonder that in the end his team ran out of legs as Reading made their pressure tell in the dying minutes of the game.

No mistake, Pompey had given everything, they had even managed to chalk up an early lead through Nadir Ciftci’s deflected strike.

On eight minutes, Matt Ritchie’s backheel sent the Dutchman wriggling free down the right and his shot struck a Reading defender to divert into the net.

Had David Nugent managed to shake off his wretched early-season shooting form, they could even have established an unassailable advantage.

Yet ultimately, Cotterill lacked the reinforcements from the bench he desperately needed and his tired troops could hold on no longer.

With 87 minutes on the clock, an almighty scramble in the six-yard box saw Jimmy Kebe poke the ball over the line.

Such was the extent of the melee, not even television replays can confirm his claim to that equaliser.

Meanwhile, several Pompey players were appealing for a foul during the chaos that no-one could quite see.

Nonetheless, in that moment, Reading had struck to claim a point and deflate the optimism which had been flooding through Fratton Park.

No question about it, following Lampitt’s comments on Express FM the previous night over Chainrai’s anticipated arrival as owner again, the feeling among fans was upbeat.

That and the mouth-watering possibility Anthony Vanden Borre and Ricardo Rocha could return in the next week and suddenly things don’t seem that bad.

No wonder Cotterill was at his buoyant best during Thursday’s pre-match press conference, brimming with optimism.

If Chainrai is successful in his re-purchase of the club, he must be judged on whether he delivers on promises – not before.

And he and his brother, Dipak, and business partner Levi Kushnir would have seen on Saturday how Cotterill is crying out for help in creating a squad.

For at the moment, its size is not sufficient enough to sustain Championship football let alone get them back into the Premier League.

Once plan A goes out the window, for the Blues boss there is no plan B to ride to the rescue.

Not that Pompey didn’t deserve a point against Reading, the fact was neither did the opposition deserve to lose.

Late in the first half and for periods during the second, Brian McDermott’s men bossed possession without ever really threatening enough.

While Pompey’s legs grew weary, the Royals threw on three substitutes to pep-up up their troops.

In contrast, Cotterill had goalkeeper Liam O’Brien and teenagers Peter Gregory and Marlon Pack at his disposal.

Granted, the Blues gave their absolute all but there was more than a degree of inevitability when Kebe netted that late equaliser.

Perhaps it was fitting, too, that the best player of the pitch should be the one that got it.

The Frenchman gave debutant Carl Dickinson a torrid afternoon, turning him inside out time and time again with consummate ease.

Pompey’s on-loan left back – who had only arrived little more than 24 hours earlier – won’t have tougher examinations than that this season.

For all the fairness of the result, however, there was a nagging feeling of what could have been had Nugent discovered his accuracy.

The man with that England millstone still around his neck had two glorious opportunities to double Pompey’s lead before Kebe’s equaliser.

The first on 32 minutes saw Brynjar Gunnarsson miss Jamie Ashdown’s long goal-kick to send Nugent clear, yet he instead half-volleyed comfortably wide.

Then on 65 minutes, Ward prodded through a pass which Nugent latched onto with just Adam Federici to beat.

Groans greeted his shot as he dragged it wide of the far post to cap another unfortunate piece of finishing.

At the other end, Gylfi Sigurdsson struck Ashdown’s right-hand post with an excellent free-kick from 25-yards.

Other than that, however, the impressive Ibrahima Sonko was leading the rearguard fightback.

Uncompromising and brave, there is little finesse about his game. It is all about heart and passion and he held the Blues together in outstanding fashion.

Eventually, though, the goal came and the result was shared, much to Reading’s relief.

Still, plan B looks to be underway – let’s just hope Cotterill is also able to implement his own version at Preston next weekend.