Survival was the priority

Steve Cotterill talks to his Pompey players on the pitch after the 3-0 loss to Coventry
Steve Cotterill talks to his Pompey players on the pitch after the 3-0 loss to Coventry
Dion Donohue. Picture: Colin Farmery

New boy’s bitter-sweet Pompey experience

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Nobody was left in any doubt as to the mood of the Pompey manager after his home side’s defeat to Coventry.

Just before he made his way to his press conference, Steve Cotterill booted a nearby water bottle halfway down the side of the Fratton Park pitch in response to being asked if there was any chance of an interview with the returning Danny Webber.

I guess that will be a ‘no’ then, Steve.

And the innocent bottle got it again from the manager moments later with the kind of sweet strike that might have pepped up Pompey’s fortunes in front of goal had it come half an hour earlier.

While Cotterill cut a furious figure in the immediate aftermath of defeat and stopped all of his players from speaking to the media, it should not go un-noticed that while Pompey’s play-off dreams withered and died, survival was mathematically assured by results elsewhere.

And that should not be shrugged off as a mere footnote in this campaign.

Flip the calendar back eight months and a 2-0 defeat to the same club in the reverse fixture appeared to signal the start of a long battle to avoid a consecutive relegation to League One.

The fact that survival has been assured with five games remaining is a considerable achievement by Cotterill, his backroom staff, the people behind the scenes at Fratton Park and, of course, the players.

After the first eight games of the season, Pompey had just two points and were rock bottom of the Championship.

Hands up who would have gladly taken fourth from bottom after the 1-0 loss to Sheffield United back in September?

Cotterill may not be among those with their hands in the air at that question.

Undoubtedly, his sights remained higher, despite such a dreadful start in those rather mitigating circumstances of barely being able to field a side.

As a manager, he won’t accept mediocrity, even if he was fighting with one hand behind his back for most of the season. But when he steps back and takes stock of his and his team’s efforts this season, he should feel a warm glow of achievement at a job well done rather than anger at mid-table obscurity.

To get to the last six games of the season with a place in the play-offs still possible was a feat in itself.

The failure to make them is not down to him or his players but the mess behind the scenes at Fratton Park that continues to take time to unravel. It is happening – slowly, but surely.

But it was never going to be an overnight fix to put the club back on a stable footing after its narrow escape from oblivion.

First and foremost, Championship survival was the priority. So the fact we’ve all avoided a nerve-jangling last-day relegation decider at Scunthorpe is a bonus.

The play-offs have gone and it was a poor display from a team who haven’t been found wanting on too many occasions this season.

For all that’s gone on, we can forgive them that one.