Pompey midfielder savours bear pit as Cook's men are tamed
BEN CLOSE sensed the belief of a bear-pit Fratton Park as Paul Cook's Wigan were put to the sword.
The midfielder lauded a crackling atmosphere as Pompey produced a blood-and-guts display to turn over the title favourites with a 2-1 success.
That saw the Blues make it four wins on the bounce and move to within goal difference of a play-off berth.
Close knew what the occasion meant to supporters as they went up against the man who left for Wigan last year after guiding his side to the League Two title.
The 21-year-old felt the fans responded to the tempo the players set – and then carried them through the game’s dramatic finale after Will Grigg pulled a goal back for the visitors.
Close said: ‘It was big for the supporters.
‘The crowd were so up for it. They were feeling it and hopefully we gave them what they wanted.
‘They were behind us straightaway and we thrived off it.
‘We kept them at bay early on and didn’t give them too many chances.
‘We got the first goal and after that it got louder and louder.
‘The cheer at the end was probably the loudest I’ve ever heard!
‘When the crowd were like they were it definitely improves us.
‘It was tiring mentally and physically but we held out.
‘It’s physically demanding and when you get tired you have to be mentally strong enough to push through.
‘We did that to a man.’
There were plenty of friends reunited as Cook, his coaching team and Gary Roberts returned, with Noel Hunt on media duties.
Close added: ‘It’s part of football. You see people you know in the game all the time now.
‘It’s been great knowing these lads over the past couple of years and it was a good to see them.
‘I said hello and good luck after. They were very respectful.
‘It was good to see them but nice to get the win.
‘They are the best team in the league and we’ve struggled to beat teams ahead of us.
‘They are at the top and have beat Premier League teams in the FA Cup.
‘They’ve got such quality and we kept them at bay for most of the game.
‘That’s a credit to the team.’
Close wasn’t sure whether he was in the box when he won the penalty which Brett Pitman converted in the 40th minute, but Wigan players gave the midfield conflicting views.
He said: ‘The player who fouled me (Dan Burn) said at the end it was never a penalty and it was a free-kick. It was outside the box.
‘Another Wigan lad said it looked inside to them.
‘I’d have to look back at it before I decide, but I found myself in a high position, shifted it and it was a foul.
‘Inside or outside? I don’t know but we got the pen and the goal.’