Coventry City 2 Pompey 0

Derry City winger Ronan Curtis

Shiels: No Pompey move for Derry winger Curtis

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The little boy gripped his father’s hand as he walked away from the Ricoh Arena.

Tied tightly to his other wrist were half a dozen blue and white balloons.

Soaring high one moment, the next they will be deflated.

Today’s smiles will be replaced by tomorrow’s tears for that little lad.

It’s a fate with which Pompey fans can certainly empathise.

In the build-up to Saturday’s fixture, confidence was lifted skywards following a memorable Birmingham romp.

Suddenly the Great Escape was on, the belief surging through the famous old city was tangible.

Then it all came crashing down to earth within 90 minutes against Coventry City.

The balloon had been burst.

Gary McSheffrey and Oliver Norwood did the damage during the second half.

Well, the damage in terms of goals anyway. Pompey’s players contributed to their own demise with a lacklustre showing.

Too many below-par performances impacted upon the result against the fellow relegation rivals. A result which could yet prove to be crucial in remaining in the Championship.

As swiftly as spirits had risen from Tuesday, the second-half on Saturday brought them plummeting.

It was not good enough from the same XI who conjured up those Birmingham heroics.

Michael Appleton labelled the 2-0 defeat as his most disappointing performance since taking over the reigns.

He was the picture of restraint during his post-match press conference, yet beneath the surface he was raging.

Fighting to keep his emotions in check, he was uncharacteristically late conducting such media duties.

As he had joked only a week earlier, sometimes it can take a while to apply his public face.

The Blues boss knew it was a crucial opportunity spurned.

No question his players were made to realise that too, inside those confines of the dressing room.

Of course, there are eight matches remaining, including successive fixtures coming up at Fratton Park.

But on an afternoon when even a point would have been a setback, Pompey ended up with nothing.

Come the final whistle, those Coventry City fans who had remained so quiet throughout had discovered their voice.

‘We are staying up’ came the cry, certainly comprehending the significance of such a result.

Appleton’s men now stand five points behind them and six points adrift of safety.

It’s a shortfall which can be made up from now until April 28 and for that reason hope still exists.

Nonetheless, the Ricoh Arena result represented a hammer blow as the momentum of Birmingham was blown away in one instant.

Now the attention turns to Hull tomorrow and with it Appleton will be reassessing his starting line-up.

Luke Varney’s place in particular will come under scrutiny more than most as he struggles for form.

The forward has scratched around since his return from a long lay-off.

Such has been Pompey’s urgency to have him back, the concept of easing him in has been scrapped out of necessity.

As a result, he is at present a shadow of the player who produced his best displays under the caretaker tenancy of Guy Whittingham and Stuart Gray.

On Saturday, he was presented with a golden opportunity to net after Scott Allan clipped in a delicious cross.

That would have levelled the scoreline and provided the visitors with priceless late momentum.

As it was, his attempted close-range header resulted in the ball instead striking his shoulder and bouncing out for a corner.

A sharp Varney would have buried that. As it was, it was a glaring miss.

Earlier in the match he had indicated he had trouble with a hamstring, yet managed to continue. The decision on his fitness could now be taken out of his hands for tomorrow’s Hull visit.

Certainly, Appleton has a few more options at his disposal when agonising over his next line-up.

Not that Varney should be made the scapegoat for Saturday, plenty of others also failed to shine.

Only Jamie Ashdown emerged with any great deal of credit after two excellent stops.

The first saw him tip Clive Platt’s drive against the post after Ricardo Rocha had failed to cut out a pass.

The second, after the break, was a wonderful flying save to thwart Sammy Clingan and his goal-bound free-kick.

Certainly much has been made of the departure of Stephen Henderson, a player who made a massive impact during his short time. But in Ashdown the Blues are fortunate to have a goalkeeper to come into the side who can comfortably perform in the Championship.

Largely this season the problems have come at the other end.

Unfortunately, at the Ricoh Arena they were glaringly all over the pitch.

And didn’t Coventry take advantage.

George Thorne’s drive which Joe Murphy failed to hold and Joel Ward’s far-post header from a corner were the best moments of the first half.Nonetheless, the visitors had enjoyed possession against an opposition who remained a threat.

After the break the Sky Blues dominated as Pompey’s game crumbled – such a contrast to other recent second-half displays.

Sure enough, McSheffrey gave them a 55th-minute lead when he cleverly swept home Chris Hussey’s delivery from the left.

It was poor marking from the Blues, the midfielder coming from deep to net.

Chris Maguire did, however, strike the inside of the post from a free-kick as the visitors looked to get back on level terms.

But Norwood put the game beyond them in the 77th minute when he netted at the far post following good work from substitute Gael Bigirimana.

There was still time for Thorne to see a stoppage-time shot from distance turned around the post by Murphy.

Not that Appleton could have any complaints about the scoreline, he is honest to admit his team were found wanting.

The fact it followed on from what was perceived as the breakthrough result against Birmingham made it the more painful, however.

All that hard work scuppered straight away.

It added up to a desperately disappointing day in the midlands sunshine when it promised so much.

Still, there is the chance to inflate another balloon tomorrow.

This Championship party is not yet over.