Cook’s promotion facts outwit the Pompey criticism

Pompey boss Paul Cook, left, celebrates promotion with Blues chairmain Iain McInnes at Notts County's Meadow Lane last Monday Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey boss Paul Cook, left, celebrates promotion with Blues chairmain Iain McInnes at Notts County's Meadow Lane last Monday Picture: Joe Pepler
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The handwritten letter has long since departed the bin in which it was filed away.

Yet its contents have remained wedged in the mind of the recipient.

‘I got a really poor letter off a fan not that long ago,’ said Paul Cook.

‘Apparently, I am the most negative manager in the club’s history. It basically told me to “get back north, you are a disgrace to the club.”

‘Which is sad, really.’

Cook can afford to reflect on such moments wearing a wry smile. A Pompey promotion comfortably trumps any poison administered by pen or keyboard.

The Blues boss inhabits a prized period in his Fratton Park residency when facts gloriously outwit opinions.

Victory at Notts County clinched elevation to League One with three games to spare. Presently, he can commit no footballing crime.

Although, within an hour of that emotional Meadow Lane outcome, Express FM received a string of texts demanding Cook’s dismissal.

However, Rich Payne, from Chester, and the host of other characters sharing similar views had something else in common. They were from the same mobile number.

Sometimes winners just cannot win.

Criticism has been a constant companion of Cook’s during his south-coast tenure, often tip-toeing along the boundaries of hysteria.

Unquestionably, he managed his way, refusing to back down from a playing identity he was convinced would reap success.

The result? League Two’s second-highest scorers, the tightest defence and the second-best goal difference.

And, crucially, the third-largest points haul, a tally which now cannot be surpassed by those scrambling below.

So much for 20-goal-a-season strikers being essential ingredients for a promotion campaign. Kal Naismith (12) and Gary Roberts (10) are the current leading scorers.

Similarly, Cook’s 4-2-3-1 formation has been persistently lambasted, with preference among supporters instead largely resting on operating with two strikers.

Occasionally, there were calls for a back three, although they dispersed in the aftermath of the convincing 3-0 defeat at Stevenage.

As for Pompey’s manager supposedly possessing no Plan B – before Good Friday, no team in the top-four tiers had scored more goals via substitutes.

That leading tally was fittingly lifted to 15 when Jamal Lowe contributed two goals in 13 minutes having climbed off the bench at Notts County.

Elsewhere, Gareth Evans’ presence at right-back has been a genuine concern, as was the policy of seemingly stockpiling rivals.

Firstly, Drew Talbot and Adam Buxton were recruited last summer to replace the excellent Ben Davies.

Then Aaron Simpson arrived on loan from Wolves, following the release of Buxton, only to never make a reserve squad let alone the first team.

Yet since being converted against Crawley on September 3, Evans has been automatic choice in an unfamiliar role – and an ever-present.

Granted, the Blues have missed his thrusting runs further up the pitch, yet a change of job description has not detracted from his performances.

The fact he has been a key component in the best defence in League Two also demonstrates he has not struggled there.

Similarly, David Forde has had his critics, yet been part of that same watertight Pompey rearguard.

His dominance in the air and command of the penalty area has been outstanding, while handling mistakes during such duties must rank as miniscule.

So what about Ian Foster then, with his February departure used by some to illustrate a feuding backroom and Cook losing his generals post-Wycombe defeat.

It emerged the first-team coach left for England employment, although admittedly it was an act perceived as treachery among Cook’s group.

Pompey have subsequently won 10 times, drawn on three occasions and lost twice.

Of course, the November half-time scrap between Michael Doyle and Christian Burgess apparently signified the manager had lost the dressing room.

Certainly the Blues lost the game against Stevenage, with both withdrawn at the interval. There were supporters who called for the pair to be sacked.

In the aftermath, the Blues have lost five of their past 25 matches in all competitions.

Oh yes, competitions. Cook’s side went out of all competitions by November 8, representing disappointingly early exits.

The manager remained relaxed, citing the practicality of being able to focus solely on promotion without distractions and potential injury situations.

Another issue rightly pointed out is Pompey’s failure to string wins together.

Only once this season have Cook’s men achieved more than three consecutive league victories – and that was by the start of September.

On the subject of wins, the Blues were booed during November’s 4-0 home win over Mansfield.

They left it late over the nine men, with three goals coming in the final six minutes, yet it didn’t disperse the unpleasant atmosphere.

Incidentally, Cook was forced to leave the Shepherds Crook last Friday night after the 1-1 draw with Plymouth.

Despite standing three points from promotion, it is claimed two supporters spoke aggressively to him, particularly on the issue of employing two strikers.

It prompted Pompey’s boss to leave the pub – and 72 hours later his team went up at Notts County.

Promotion – the only letters which really count.