Sheffield United 1 - Pompey 0

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Jamal Lowe helped fire Pompey to success at Fleetwood. Picture: Mark Robinson

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Different season, different division, different manager, largely different personnel. Same old story.

Pompey just can’t shake off their long-standing problems and the result is all-too familiar territory.

So much for a fresh start and clean slate this term following Premier League relegation.

The ghosts of the past refuse to be exorcised – and at Sheffield United the malevolent spirits were at their impish worst.

By right, it should have been a first Championship win for Steve Cotterill.

Dominated, at times run ragged and boasting a keeper who was crowned as man of the match, the Blades would have been grateful to have clambered through to full time with a point.

Instead, following a hotly-disputed free-kick, Ched Evans drove home a 77th-minute decider which entered the net via the inside of the post.

It was their first shot on target and – at the time – only their second attempt on the Blues goal.

Yet, ultimately, it secured United a thoroughly ill-deserved win.

No wonder the first song played over the PA system come the final whistle was EMF’s Unbelievable.

Clearly someone at Bramall Lane had a wicked sense of humour.

One club employee was even grudgingly heard to remark Pompey deserved a draw ‘at the very least’.

Not quite, they actually deserved a victory – and didn’t everyone present know it deep down.

Cotterill’s men carved some seven golden chances to have put the game well out of reach before that late Evans strike.

Yet it was with a degree of inevitably they failed miserably to beat the busy Steve Simonsen even once.

David Nugent, Dave Kitson, John Utaka, Liam Lawrence and substitute Kanu all chanced their arm during an impressive Blues showing over the 90 minutes.

Unfortunately, every single one of them didn’t succeed, through a combination of bad finishing and outstanding goalkeeping.

Not that Pompey fans should be surprised at another goal-shy display.

Let’s not forget, no club scored fewer goals in the Premier League than Pompey last term during their relegation.

This time around, seasonal underachievers Nugent and Utaka are among those being asked to solve that problem.

Then again, they will need to change a well-worn Pompey habit.

After all, with 17 goals between them in 147 combined games over the past three years, hitting the back of the net has hardly come easy.

It remains to be seen whether they can suddenly come good in their fourth Fratton Park season under their fifth manager.

Elsewhere, midfielders Michael Brown and Hayden Mullins are also being asked to chip in.

But they have only contributed three goals between them in 95 combined Blues games so far.

Sadly, there is no magic wand to restore a cutting edge to Pompey’s oft-blunt attacking play.

And therein is the age-old problem experienced by Paul Hart, Avram Grant and now Cotterill.

The result? Defeat at Sheffield United when Pompey should have been home and dry long before the 90 minutes was up.

In fairness to Utaka, he produced an impressive display on the left wing, especially during a first half in which he gave Jean Calve a torrid time.

The much-maligned Nigerian was at his most destructive, ripping through the left channel at will, while his delivery was also, in general, spot-on.

His recall allowed Nugent to return to his favoured striking role to partner Kitson, with Kanu dropping to the bench.

Meanwhile, Ibrahima Sonko was also left out of the side to make way for Aaron Mokoena to renew his central-defensive partnership with Ricardo Rocha.

For many fans, it was the correct call after the duo had performed so well together at the tail-end of last season under Grant.

But it was the goalscoring front which provided Cotterill with his biggest headache as his side was robbed of a maiden league win.

It was Utaka who carved out the first opening inside the third minute, cutting inside Calve and lashing in a shot which was brilliantly tipped around the post by Simonsen.

That moment marked an impressive opening 30 minutes for the visitors, who continued to wreak havoc on the Blades defence.

A Utaka cross saw Mokoena and Rocha bundle into each other while attempting to head home at the far post, while Mullins was narrowly ruled off-side after being put through by Nugent.

Moments later, Brown’s precise pass cut through the home rearguard to present Nugent with a one-on-one with Simonsen.

Yet he dallied, allowing Kyle Bartley to return into position, and in the end curled a right-foot shot harmlessly at the keeper.

Still, the chances came pouring out – Kitson trying his luck with an ambitious 45-yard lob which went wide, while Nugent somehow headed an excellent Utaka delivery the wrong way.

It wasn’t until the 42nd minute when United had their first meaningful attempt on goal. Even then, Johnny

Ertl drove Evans’ pull-back embarrassingly wide of the target after racing in to shoot.

After the break, Utaka elected to shoot from a tight angle rather than passing to his team-mates after cutting through the defence again.

Then Lawrence’s cross picked out Nugent at the far post, but his header was held by Simonsen.

Lawrence, himself, latched on to a Nugent pass and drove in an attempt which drew a good stop from the overworked keeper.

Then the midfielder watched in horror as a 25-yard free-kick was tipped around the post when it seemed destined for the net. However, the decisive moment came on 77 minutes after Carl Dickinson was harshly adjudged to have handballed 25-yards from goal.

The free-kick was touched back to Evans, who rattled in a shot off the post for what proved to be the match winner.

Even after that, Kitson shot wildly wide after a clever reverse pass from Lawrence, while substitute Kanu sent one down the throat of Simonsen from distance.

Yet the Blades clung on and their relieved fans celebrated at the final whistle.

Unjust, unfair and unwarranted.

Another day at the office for Pompey.