Pompey 1 Southampton 1

Joel Ward heads Pompey's goal. Picture: Steve Reid (114419-034)
Joel Ward heads Pompey's goal. Picture: Steve Reid (114419-034)
Dion Donohue Picture: Jason Chadwick

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

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For all the anticipation and hype the final whistle was greeted with relief.

Certainly from Pompey supporters.

This was the ‘El Classicoast’, a rare encounter between two fierce rivals.

A tantalising battle to be witnessed by Fratton Park’s biggest crowd of the season and a live television audience.

The cold reality was a let down.

Granted, there was a genuinely romantic finale to the latest south coast instalment.

How fitting it should be Joel Ward who provided the late leveller.

After all, here is a local, home-grown lad with Pompey in his blood and his family regularly in the stands.

But overall, this was an instantly forgettable clash.

No blood and thunder challenges, no goal cascade, not so much as a mid-pitch scuffle between fierce opponents.

In total, two players were booked. Sportingly one from either side.

Not that passion or competitiveness was missing from Fratton Park. Far from it.

It’s just that, atmosphere aside, this was no cracker to have excited the frontroom audience.

Honours shared, a hand shake and it’s onto the Christmas fixtures.

Perhaps for Southampton that is to be embraced following successive 4-1 hammerings at the hands of their oldest foes.

Blues fans have undoubtedly been spoiled on those previous two occasions.

Well, they certainly weren’t overfed too many delicious sweets yesterday.

Ultimately, they were grateful for just a point having stared into the derby day abyss.

In fact, Southampton should have bubble bused their way back up the Eastern Road clutching all three points.

In a tight affair, they appeared to have edged it through Rickie Lambert’s 63rd-minute goal.

Certainly, once he planted his header past Stephen Henderson there appeared only one winner.

Subsequently the match drifted towards the same conclusion as the clock ticked down.

Pompey were flailing, lacking inspiration, shorn of ideas.

For the majority at Fratton Park it was a slow, painful death in front of their mocking adversaries.

Then came the moment which must have shocked even the most positive-thinking Blues fan.

Norris swung in a right-wing corner which was met by the head of George Thorne.

The ball found its way to the far post where Ward wanted it more than Guly do Prado.

The Emsworth youngster rose high as do Prado swivelled and turned his back.

And Pompey had their equaliser.

In truth, Southampton should have already had matters sewn up.

Barely five minutes earlier, do Prado dragged his shot across goal and wide when well placed.

Moments later, Henderson raced off his line to produce a priceless block to deny the Brazilian.

Had those opportunities fallen to Lambert, the outcome would have been very different.

As it was, Nigel Adkins’ men paid the ultimate price.

Instead the next – all decisive goal – was Pompey’s and the points were shared.

Michael Appleton’s side possesses guts, pure and simple.

In recent weeks they have also demonstrated a handy knack at netting late goals. This was another prime example.

And how the home fans were grateful at having pocketed a point from a match they had long braced themselves to lose.

Not that Pompey should be criticised for sharing a 1-1 draw.

Let’s not forget, Southampton have been the most impressive side in the Championship after half a season.

They also sit at the top of the table – a point ahead West Ham United.

Certainly no shame in the scoreline as Appleton maintains his impressive start to life at Fratton.

Unfortunately, yesterday failed to reproduce the impressive football demonstrated at Burnley a week earlier.

In contrast, against Southampton, they struggled as an attacking force, contributing to the patchy nature of the game.

Too many over-hit balls asking Dave Kitson to do so much, not that he gave up hope for every wasted chase.

Meanwhile, delivery from both flanks also disappointed.

However, there is a defensive resilience to the side Appleton has begun to mould.

Granted, Lambert’s goal originated from a set-piece taken by Daniel Fox.

Nonetheless, on the whole it was another solid showing from a back four in which the on-loan Joe Mattock continues to shine.

The back four and keeper are looking far stronger than they did during Steve Cotterill’s reign this season.

They certainly dealt with the threat of do Prado effortlessly, while Morgan Schneiderlin on the right flank made no impact.

It’s just that man Lambert, one of the outstanding players in the Championship this season.

Thankfully, Ward was his equal as he pounced late to spare the agony of a home derby defeat.

Plenty for Appleton to mull over in the aftermath then.

Mind you, he made a big decision before the match by granting a swift recall to fit-again Liam Lawrence.

The club captain had missed the previous six weeks through ankle ligament damage.

But having returned to full training this week, he earned himself a place against Southampton.

Surprisingly, the nod came ahead of Erik Huseklepp, who many thought would replace the injured Luke Varney.

Varney suffered a medial knee ligament strain at Burnley and had long been ruled out of the south coast derby.

It meant Lawrence was the only change to the side which triumphed at Turf Moor, ending Pompey’s nine-month search for an away victory.

Instead Huseklepp, who came on as substitute for Varney that day, was forced to remain on the bench.

At the other end, Kelvin Davis replaced the clanger-prone Bartosz Bialkowski, not that he was tested enough.

Adkins’ side started the stronger and it was only in the final 15 minutes of the first half when the hosts seriously threatened.

Thorne saw a goal-bound volley deflected wide, David Norris drove just past the post, while Greg Halford crashed a free-kick agonisingly wide.

That proved to be Pompey’s most effective attacking period of the match.

After the break it was Southampton appearing the most likely to score – and they obliged in the 63rd minute.

Then, just as Pompey fans resigned themselves to defeat, up stepped Ward.

A memorable moment in what ranks as a forgettable ‘El Classicoast’.