IT WAS the half-time punch-up which threatened to derail Pompey’s promotion drive.
Yet Paul Cook is convinced the Stevenage fracas between Christian Burgess and Michael Doyle was exploited to Pompey’s advantage.
And he points to two Fratton Park defeats in the subsequent four-and-a-half months as evidence.
The influential pair came to blows with the scoreline goalless at the interval during the November visit of Stevenage.
Following the altercation, which left Burgess with a cut requiring stitches, the pair were swiftly substituted – only for the Blues to slip to a 3-0 defeat.
Since then, the next 12 home fixtures have ended in only two Pompey defeats.
And Cook believes that moment actually benefited his team.
He said: ‘Michael Doyle cares passionately about winning football games.
‘Christian Burgess is a young lad learning his way in the game – normally younger lads learning their way make a few mistakes.
‘I am not taking sides as there are no sides to it.
‘This season there is a pressure drawing 0-0 at half-time. We have been a promotion team booed off regularly, that’s the truth.
‘What happens to our lads when drawing 0-0 is it adds to the pressure. Instead of us relaxing kicking into the Fratton end, the tension levels go up and the players come in at half-time looking for someone to blame.
‘We have since managed that situation well. When we now come in at 0-0, there is no more anger in the dressing room.
‘I’ve had to explain to the lads we were creating and leading to our own downfall.
‘We were helping the opposition.
‘Our fans are going to be disappointed if drawing 0-0 but we have to learn from that and react positively.
‘Our fans’ reaction to games in terms of when they are not happy is frustration – and that understanding has turned us into a mentally-stronger team.’
Cook had previously steered away from discussing what occurred during that ugly situation.
In the aftermath, the pair were fined, the undisclosed sum donated to charity.
Although Cook received criticism from some quarters for making the issue public during his post-match press conference.
He added: ‘You have to iron things out, we are men not kids.
‘The problem for us is every action now is out there quite quickly, so I came out afterwards and said what had gone on.
‘I don’t believe in that nonsense of keeping it all secret. We are a fans-owned club so why would you want to tell lies to your supporters?
‘We had a problem. It has been dealt with and, with all due respect to those two lads, they are now as close as they have ever been.
‘The pair of them have played a massive part in our promotion to League One.
‘Have they learnt from that? Ask them, I’m sure they have done.’