Pompey’s change of tack with the press at crucial moment

Paul Cook keeps an eye on his players during the Mansfield match. Picture: Joe Pepler
Paul Cook keeps an eye on his players during the Mansfield match. Picture: Joe Pepler
Conor Chaplin and Brett Pitman. Picture: Shaun Boggust

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Noticed anything different about the rhetoric coming out of Fratton Park lately?

There’s been a subtle, yet very marked, effort from Paul Cook to control the messages emanating from Pompey over the past couple of weeks, as the season charges toward what increasingly appears to be a dramatic climax.

Don’t think there’s been a media blackout for a second.

There’s none of the banning of The News we’ve seen under previous regimes, here. Relations are good.

Cook sprung something of a surprise a couple of weeks back, though, when he gagged the Pompey players from speaking after the 1-1 draw at Mansfield.

With his own head in a spin at the way his men finished the game, the barriers went up for the first time in his tenure with the Blues.

That rolled over into the next week as Cook began his pre-match press duties with a 20-minute off-the-record briefing. There he outlined frustration at what he perceived were some daft messages emanating from the playing ranks.

With there now little margin for error in the bid to get out of the division, the Pompey boss was looking for a renewed sense of focus.

‘There’s too much talking going on here,’ was the way he put it.

That meant a ban on players speaking and a more considered approach from Cook with what he was saying ahead of a game.

Given the Scouser’s frenetic enthusiasm and openness since arriving last summer, it’s a marked departure. Cook conducts his press conferences like you’d conduct a chat about Pompey down the Shepherds Crook with your mates.

That leads to meandering chats on the Blues, management, coaching, signings, rivals, players and just about any other topic vaguely attached to the game.

His natural inclination to openly debate a topic was corrected a couple of times last week, however.

Going into how the faults of the defeat to Newport County have been erased was kiboshed for fear of lingering on the Exiles loss.

In typical Cook fashion, after a lengthy explanation of his thinking he’s now relented and is allowing a sprinkling of experienced players to engage with the media.

They offer a safe pair of hands, however, and are more than likely to steer clear of the hyperbole.

So don’t expect any further headlines about Pompey winning all of their remaining games in the coming weeks. Such a line was a catalyst for these actions after Michael Smith suggested that could be the case – before the Newport loss...

Cook took himself out of the equation after Saturday’s victory over Carlisle, with assistant Leam Richardson conducting press duties.

As we’ve seen this season, the 49-year-old, who has been great value with the press, isn’t a fan of speaking in the immediate aftermath of battle.

‘All we do is talk rubbish,’ was his assessment.

Cook would never dodge that duty after a defeat, however. A manager wouldn’t want to look like he was hiding. But weekend success gave Richardson the chance to speak in his more measured manner.

So a clear change of tack with the media has been evident.

There is an inherent danger in doing so at a critical moment in the campaign, though.

A change to focus on the goals ahead can also sometimes be perceived as cracks appearing when the pressure mounts. That’s certainly been the case at Pompey before under previous management.

Cook and his team, by their own admission, have found the weight of media attention afforded their side something they’ve had to adjust to.

When people care about their football club as passionately as they do here, it’s also a reality they accept.

What does help is winning games. That puts smiles on faces.

A change in approach is the heat getting too much after a defeat. Victories arrive, and the plaudits for being a managerial guru are all yours.