Watford 3 - Pompey 0

Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin. Picture: Joe Pepler

Catlin: Pompey right to stay patient in player hunt

Five minutes was all it took to plot Pompey's future. A brief New Year's Eve phone call from Balram Chainrai delivered the message.

Clearly, judging from Steve Cotterill's downbeat post-match reaction, the content was not entirely what he and Blues fans wanted to hear.

Still, less than 24 hours after the joint-owner's call, a live television audience witnessed what the fuss has been all about.

Already the Football League's smallest squad, Pompey's numbers had plummeted to just 15 to take on Watford.

The result was a dismal 3-0 defeat in a match where below-par Pompey struggled to threaten their opponents' goal.

Among the Vicarage Road crowd of 12,577 present were four key performers unable to feature in Cotterill's plans.

Two of whom, Michael Brown and Richard Hughes, remain embroiled in on-going contract wrangles and are unlikely to play for the club again.

As for the ineligible Liam Lawrence and suspended Dave Kitson, at least they were set to return in today's Fratton Park clash with Hull.

Without their influential presence, Joel Ward played in midfield, Nadir Ciftci started his first game since October and Kanu lined up for only the sixth time this season.

Meanwhile, the bench consisted of four substitutes – one of whom was rookie Tom Kilbey and another in Ricardo Rocha, who was injured.

Pompey fans, management and players have long raised their concerns over squad limitations.

Now, finally, the nation were provided irrefutable proof as well as a disturbing glimpse of where the season is headed.

Ultimately, it has turned out the cavalry has arrived in the form of Chainrai, the joint-owner finally giving permission for Cotterill to recruit.

Encouraging news after the agonising wait which has, understandably, agitated supporters.

The downside is it will be in the form of loans and a minor transfer kitty – there will be no major influx of bodies.

No wonder Cotterill cut an unusually-subdued figure when addressing the media following the Watford loss.

He remained diplomatic, yet the former Bournemouth striker is a passionate character whose face often betrays his words.

For all the heroics he has performed at Fratton Park since his July arrival, he clearly needs assistance from the club's owners.

Help might now be at hand for the remainder of the season.

But it remains to be seen how much leeway he is given in the transfer and loan market to recruit the numbers he desperately craves.

On Saturday, Cotterill declined to point the finger of blame at his lack of playing options as the reason for the Watford defeat.

Instead, he chose to praise an impressive Hornets side full of youth, imagination and promise.

But clearly, the size of Pompey's squad was a large contributing factor to a first defeat in five matches.

Ibrahima Sonko returned to the side in place of Rocha, who was suffering with a hamstring injury, while Kanu replaced the suspended Dave Kitson and Ciftci came in for the contract-tied Hughes.

That allowed Ward to continue the midfield role he filled at Leeds, while Kanu played behind David Nugent in the hole.

Pompey started brightly enough, with Kanu at the hub of everything good about their play.

The in-form Nugent curled one effort over the bar, while Greg Halford went close with a drive from long distance following good work from John Utaka and Kanu.

At the other end, Danny Graham saw his low shot pushed out superbly by Jamie Ashdown.

On 28 minutes, penalty appeals were waved away by Andy D'Urso after the lively Will Buckley went down under a challenge from Carl Dickinson.

Replays showed Buckley had made a meal of it and he was lucky to escape without a booking.

As Watford began to seize control of the game, Graham cushioned a header into the path of Buckley, who volleyed over from close range when he should have done far better.

Yet the hosts did take the lead in stunning fashion on 42 minutes.

Ashdown punched away a Watford corner – but there was Andrew Taylor on the edge of the penalty to strike a spectacular volley which screamed into the net.

It was the left-back's first goal in 168 career appearances.

For so long this season a second-half team, Pompey wilted after the break as Watford dominated with ease.

The Hornets double their lead on 52 minutes when Graham dispossessed Ciftci on the halfway line and fed the impressive Marvin Sorvell.

The striker took three touches before planting the ball clinically past Ashdown.

That prompted the introduction of Kilbey for a debut, more than two years after joining from Millwall.

The 20-year-old midfielder blocked two corners and produced several good tackles to ease his nerves upon his entrance.

Fellow home-grown talent Ward then fired in a cross-cum-shot on 69 minutes which Scott Loach did well to tip around the post.

Barely 60 seconds later, Watford secured their third goal when Don Cowie fed Graham, who netted with excellent composure.

There was still time for Halford to cross from the right and Nugent wastefully head straight at Loach.

Halford, himself, was then dismissed for a lunging challenge on Taylor and, after taking offence to the defender's protests, reacted by leading with his forehead.

D'Urso had no option than to brandish the red card and Pompey were forced to spend stoppage time playing with 10 men.

More importantly, it rules the loan man out of the next three matches – only one of which he is currently signed up for, although the Blues are close to extending Halford's stay until the end of the season.

Regardless, that's another absentee from Cotterill's paper-thin squad which continues to be stretched.

Still, Chainrai has spoken and now reinforcements will be on their way at some stage during this month.

That should be music to everyone's ears.

With only two loan slots available, though, just don't expect to see too many new faces at Fratton Park.

And that in itself is another reason to worry at the halfway stage of the season.

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