Second-half goals from Marko Futacs and Greg Halford saw Pompey claim a 2-0 success over Russian outfit FC Rostov as both clubs played a worthy part in raising charity money.
Futacs opened the scoring with 16 minutes of time remaining as he blocked an attempted clearance that looped over Rostov keeper Anton Kochenkov, while half-time substitute Halford was on hand to head home the second with 10 minutes left after the visiting keeper was at fault.
It’s a fair bet that most people within the Portsmouth area had never even heard of a Russian ice hockey team called Lokomotiv Yaroslavl until recently.
But as the faces of the team and officials whose lives were lost in a recent plane crash flashed up on the giant Fratton Park screen in a tribute before kick-off, all of those present would have felt the emotion of seeing so many talented sportsmen lost in such tragic circumstances.
Seeing a list of names is totally different to seeing the faces of those 44 people who were killed, and the Pompey fans, both sets of players and officials paid their respects.
Some burst into spontaneous applause, others bowed their heads, while there were plenty who may well have been previously totally disconnected to an air disaster several thousand miles away who suddenly felt a lump in their throats.
In the directors’ box, the Russian delegation were understandably still showing the signs of their recent loss.
An entire squad was killed in an instant, coaches and team staff lost their lives on a regular trip for a league fixture, and the flight crew who died were also listed in the match programme.
With a sense of perspective instantly added to the occasion, Pompey’s slow start to the new Championship season suddenly didn’t seem anywhere near as important.
The final words of the tribute: ‘Rest in peace. Together in spirit, together in sport’, alongside the club crests, set the perfect tone and the Blues fans then set about delivering their own send-off by making as much noise as possible.
Nobody expected a huge crowd, but the 4,000 or so who did turn up certainly made themselves heard and were treated to an open encounter between the sides in the first half, with Pompey testing the FC Rostov keeper on several occasions.
While Kochenkov was equal to everything thrown at him and pulled off some fine saves, he’s also the kind of keeper who likes to make sure his efforts are captured on camera – with a succession of spectacular dives even for the most mundane of shots.
But while he would sit comfortably in the ‘flashy’ category, he was called into action when Luke Varney – making his first appearance since his sending off at Hull – rose at the far post to plant a meaty header towards the opposite corner inside seven minutes, only to see the keeper make an impressive stop.
At the other end, Jamie Ashdown – restored to the side after being dropped for last weekend’s defeat at Leeds – was also showing a safe pair of hands, but in less spectacular style, to field an Elson drive from 30 yards midway through the first period.
FC Rostov had certainly shown enough about them to suggest they are no slouches, while a Pompey side, set up in a 4-4-2 formation, saw Ryan Williams, Futacs and Ricardo Rocha among those to get a starting berth.
Much of the pre-match talk also centred on Pompey’s surprise inclusion of Fernando Vega – a Spanish triallist previously with Real Betis – at left-back.
Futacs went close to breaking the deadlock as the half-hour mark approached, when he showed good control and a clever piece of skill to get his shot away, only to see the Rostov keeper pull off another eye-catching stop.
He had barely recovered from hearing the click of the cameras when he was making another fine save to tip over Williams’ opportunist piledriver from the edge of the box.
Kochenkov was by far the star of the show for the first half and treated his new audience to another display of goalkeeping – making a meal out of a routine Varney shot.
Meanwhile, some fans in the Fratton end were fooled into thinking Varney had buried a header from the resultant corner, only to then realise it was the side netting that had rippled.
But Rostov nearly grabbed the lead themselves when Dragan Blatnjak’s 35-yard free-kick clattered the crossbar, with Ashdown appearing to get a touch, although the referee pointed for the goal-kick.
In the goalkeeping duel, the Pompey man was in action again shortly before half-time as he shovelled Gabriel Batistuta lookalike Hector Bracamonte’s curler behind.
With a succession of substitutions at half-time, the game struggled to flow after the break and the chances dried up.
Although, Bracamonte’s lashed an attempt at substitute keeper Stephen Henderson’s goal but saw it sail over the top.
Kochenkov, who was far less convincing after the break, saw his clearance charged down by Varney, who shifted into a central-striking role after the break.
However, he got away with it as the loose ball squirted just beyond the lurking Futacs.
Halford then went within a whisker of finding the opener with a powerful free-kick that left the keeper rooted to the spot, and moments later Futacs bagged his first goal in fortuitous circumstances.
The Hungarian charged down substitute Igor Smolnikov’s attempted clearance and saw the ball loop over the head of the helpless keeper to celebrate his first goal at Fratton Park.
It was 2-0 moments later when Kochenkov totally missed an attempted punch from David Norris’ corner and undid all of his good work in the first half to allow Halford the easy task of nodding home unattended from six yards out.
There was still time for the introduction of young pair Adam Webster and Jed Wallace to get a taste of Fratton Park as late substitutes as both sides showed their appreciation at the final whistle.