A surprisingly good season

Ricardo Rocha reads the game brilliantly
Ricardo Rocha reads the game brilliantly
Picture: Shutterstock

STEVE CANAVAN: The case of the 'kitchen' door is open and shut

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Barring a sensational finish to the season, Pompey will still be in the Championship in August.

That is something to celebrate for a club who were at death’s door and barely able to put a side on the pitch last summer.

When Pompey slumped to the bottom of the table fielding threadbare teams, a second successive relegation looked a probability.

It would have been easy for manager Steve Cotterill and the players to hide behind the excuse of the club’s chaotic finances.

Instead the boss crucially remained upbeat through some dark days and fostered a siege mentality among his small squad. That was not easy.

Results began to turn and Pompey showed they could match any team in the division with wins away at promotion contenders Norwich and Swansea and a battling 3-3 draw at Leeds.

But for the contract impasse which robbed the side of Michael Brown and Richard Hughes for a long winless period after Christmas, this team may well have made the play-offs.

Mr Cotterill did some fine business in January with the arrival of Aston Villa youngster Jonathan Hogg to fill the ‘ball winning’ gap in midfield left by Brown.

Right-back Ritchie de Laet, pacy and confident, has also given the team another dimension and Hermann Hreidarsson’s return is another big reason for the recent run of clean sheets. De Laet’s signing also freed up Greg Halford to form a commanding central-defensive pairing with Ricardo Rocha, whose return to fitness and form has been a key element in that vastly improved defence. He reads things better than anyone.

Further forward, David Nugent has relished playing for a manager who wants and needs him, which was not the case when Harry Redknapp was around.

I know some Pompey fans are not Dave Kitson fans but I am.

Kitson will never win an Olympic sprint title and he could score a few more but he adds craft, cleverness and class.

Elsewhere keeper Jamie Ashdown has been mostly outstanding, Joel Ward a big bonus, Hayden Mullins solid and consistent, while Dave Cotterill’s trickery has offered something a little different.

If there is a criticism, it is that Pompey have found it hard to finish off teams at home. Their style is almost more suited to playing away from Fratton.

Takeover talk continues and the hope must be for some modest investment to keep the nucleus of this side together and make a handful of significant additions.

If that happens, Pompey might really be in the frame next time around.

But nobody should under-estimate this year’s surprisingly good showing.