Pompey 2 Barnsley 0

David Norris volleys Pompey into the lead
David Norris volleys Pompey into the lead
Scott Giles  Photography by Habibur Rahman

Genius who studied in Havant is off to Oxford University with five A and A*s under his belt

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It was Steve Cotterill’s final wish in his Pompey last will and testament.

And it was a gesture which finally united fans in their joy.

The Fratton faithful had long craved the employment of two strikers.

They had repeatedly called for the re-instalment of the ever-popular Ricardo Rocha to the side.

Failure by Cotterill to act on either front had prompted many to turn on him.

But on Saturday their demands were met.

The glorious result was a 2-0 victory over Barnsley achieved by a footballing fluency often glaringly absent during the season.

Instant success then for joint-caretaker managers Guy Whittingham and Stuart Gray, who had been bestowed with such powers, little over 24 hours earlier.

Within minutes of the second goal hitting the back of the net, a chant of ‘Are you watching Steve Cotterill?’ was audible from the Fratton end.

Except it was Cotterill who was the mastermind of the triumph.

The 47-year-old spent Saturday afternoon up the M6 at the Ricoh Arena surveying his new club in away action.

Nonetheless, his influence was evident 150 miles away.

Granted, Whittingham and Gray may have given the impression of staging an extraordinary act of insubordination in going against their former general’s wishes.

The king was dead, time to run his empire in a manner to delight the loyal subjects whose voices had failed to be listened to.

Yet, the orders had been given long before Cotterill’s Nottingham Forest defection.

Cotterill himself had commanded Rocha to be released from the stocks and granted a royal pardon.

Cotterill himself had ruled a twin strikeforce of Luke Varney and Benjani be employed against Barnsley.

And all at the start of last week.

It was a gameplan which had been worked on by the former boss and his coaching staff in the build up to the visit of the Tykes.

What’s more, it proved to be a masterstroke.

As many supporters had long believed, of course.

Unquestionably, it helped that the timely double returns of Dave Kitson and Luke Varney could at least provide the option of a two-pronged attack.

Back from a three-match suspension, Varney was asked to play down the middle alongside Benjani rather than on the left and he responded by netting the second goal.

As for Kitson, returning from five matches out through injury and illness, he climbed off the bench to create that very goal.

Such recent absences had robbed Cotterill of the ability to genuinely play two in attack even if he wanted to.

It would have been a whole different ball game with Erik Huseklepp or Kanu as Benjani’s foil.

As for Rocha, two shaky displays at the start of the season saw him banished to the substitutes’ bench.

In his absence, Jason Pearce flourished in tandem with Greg Halford.

Yet for the Tykes’ visit Cotterill plotted for Halford to move over to the problem right-back slot and hand a recall for Rocha.

Inevitably, the Portuguese defender turned in a classy performance and the sort of display which has established him as such a fans’ favourite.

Not that the defence has been a particular concern for the Blues this season, problems further up the pitch have provided that headache.

After all, Rocha is not going to cure the attacking and goal-scoring ills which have been dogging the side.

Still, it was a well-received return from cold storage for a player making his first Pompey start for more than two months.

Cotterill’s swansong was in place, it was just about the players performing on the pitch.

No question about it, Liam Lawrence & Co did not let anybody down.

With Rocha and Varney restored to the side, Joel Ward found himself on the bench while Bjorn Helge Riise didn’t even make the squad.

They were the two changes to the team which suffered a 1-0 defeat at Leeds last time out – a fourth loss in five matches.

What followed at Fratton Park was a more energetic and creative display with, yet again, an impressive second period.

The occasion was witnessed by a season-low crowd of 11,261 – in addition to the television audience at home.

It was Pompey’s lowest home league crowd since September 12, 2000, when 9,235 witnessed them beat Tranmere 2-0.

Even then, that was a Tuesday night fixture.

Still, Barnsley did provide some nervy moments during a first 45 minutes which was evenly matched.

Keith Hill’s men arrived undefeated since August 16 and twice should have taken the lead.

On 23 minutes, Jim O’Brien crossed from the left and Halford hacked the ball away but only so far as Ricardo Vaz Te,

The former Bolton man was some 12 yards out and presented with an empty net, yet somehow blazed the ball over the bar.

The Tykes came even closer to breaking the deadlock on 38 minutes through the impressive Jacob Butterfield. His 25-yard drive smacked against the far post with Stephen Henderson beaten and the Fratton faithful breathed again.

At the other end, Luke Steele saved well from Davis Norris’ shot with the outside of his right boot after being teed up by Varney.

After the break it was all Pompey, though

In the 51st minute, Lawrence crossed from the right to give Huseklepp the simplest of chances from close range.

But he managed to scuff his shot and Stephen Foster volleyed off the line.

The opening goal came in the 60th minute – and what a superb strike it was.

Huseklepp headed the ball on and there was Norris on the edge of the area to flick it up with his left instep and then produce a stunning volley past Steele.

Those celebrations had barely died down when it became 2-0 moments later.

Kitson made his way down the right and pulled the ball back for Varney to sweep home.

There was still time for Butterfield’s shot to take a wicked deflection off Halford and see Henderson backtrack well to tip it over.

Regardless, a Pompey side with two up front and Rocha in its ranks were on Saturday night toasting a victory.

And the man who instructed it is no longer at the club.