Leicester 1 Pompey 1

Greg Halford comes close to giving Pompey the lead again at the King Power Stadium as he see's his back-post header come back off the upright, with keeper Kasper Schmeichel well beaten
Greg Halford comes close to giving Pompey the lead again at the King Power Stadium as he see's his back-post header come back off the upright, with keeper Kasper Schmeichel well beaten
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From left to right: Jamal Lowe, Adam May, Christian Burgess and Matt Clarke after Pompey's loss to Blackpool. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey 0 Blackpool 2: they said what?

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The turning of the calendar usually brings with it some dubious customs.

In this country, it is customary to pay for entry into a pub that is normally free, hug strangers on the stroke of midnight, drink too much alcohol, and start the new year with a sore head and little memory of the previous year’s final hours.

We then temporarily give up doing things we like doing, before starting the same thing we shouldn’t be doing again later in January.

We also tend to pay for gym memberships that we will never actually use.

Resolutions are made, resolutions are broken. And it all happens again 12 months later.

Admittedly, it’s a cynical outlook, but just sometimes a shard of light appears that change could be in the offing. And a serious change for the better at that.

It’s different in other parts of the world.

Apparently, in Hungary, for example, they make effigies of Jack Straw – no, not the politician – to burn everything that is evil, all the misfortunes and the dashed hopes of the past year.

Maybe there were even a couple of raised glasses in Budapest’s Vorosmarty Square as part of their celebrations as one of their sportsmen made a telling contribution to 2011 and made a promising pledge towards 2012.

Marko Futacs was not a particularly well-known name among Pompey fans just a few months ago.

A 21-year-old, 6ft 5in striker who is built like a tank, looks every inch the old-school English centre-forward.

But after marking his first start in Pompey colours with an explosive finish and showing more than a few glimpses that he has certainly got more about him than just brute force, Futacs could yet be the kind of player to act as a catalyst for change at Fratton Park.

An attack that has often looked toothless this season has all of a sudden developed a bit more of a fear factor for opposition teams.

Of course, it’s far too early to start making rash predictions on how good Futacs can be. And it’s wholly unfair to heap pressure on his shoulders to drag the club up the Championship table single-handedly.

But there’s nothing wrong with a bit of innocent optimism now and again.

After all, it’s become a rare commodity in Pompey in recent times.

So rather than go the other way and write the guy off prematurely, perhaps – just perhaps – the club has a player of serious potential on their hands who could develop into something special.

He’s raw, but he’s got plenty of weapons in his armoury already by the looks of things and, with a bit of guidance, coaching and encouragement, he is surely only going to get better.

Blues boss Michael Appleton has not held back with his opinion on the Hungarian and has shown plenty of faith in him in his short time in charge.

That faith went one step further at the King Power Stadium when Futacs was handed his first start and then promptly repaid the manager with the opening goal.

Liam Lawrence, back to somewhere near full match fitness and looking far more like the player we know he can be, played a clever back flick to release David Norris down the left, whose cross found Futacs in the box.

A solid piece of chest control and Futacs then wound up the shot that would surely have taken Kasper Schmeichel into the net with it had the Leicester goalkeeper got anywhere near it.

There was nothing subtle about it, but there’s a lot to be said for a striker who simply puts his laces through the ball when he gets a sight at goal.

The Foxes had threatened an early strike as the dangerous Jeff Schlupp was presented with opportunities to run at the Pompey defence after the Blues had given away possession cheaply.

The Leicester man dragged one effort narrowly wide and Aaron Mokoena made a timely intervention to prevent another strike at Stephen Henderson’s goal.

But while Futacs’ drive was Pompey’s first meaningful attempt on goal, Leicester responded almost instantly as familiar foe David Nugent rose to plant home a header within four minutes of the opener.

Just as he did at Fratton Park a matter of weeks ago, it was Nugent – against the club he left in the summer – who ensured that Pompey’s lead was short-lived.

A straightforward free-kick was swung in and the former Preston man was afforded a free header from close range and made no mistake with the finish. You couldn’t blame him for his joyful celebration this time, either.

While it’s not a crisis in terms of Pompey’s set-piece marking just yet, there is certainly cause for concern as Greg Halford was comfortably beaten in the air with a free-kick that should have been easily defended.

Halford, who was otherwise steady as he reverted to a central-defensive role in the absence of the injured Ricardo Rocha, almost restored Pompey’s lead moments later as Schmeichel – who looked decidedly suspect on crosses and decision-making all day – misjudged Joel Ward’s cross, only for the former Wolves man’s instinctive header to rattle back off the outside of the post.

But it was a mixed day for Halford, who later picked up a fifth booking of the campaign.

Ward soon followed suit, and both will now miss today’s clash with Watford through suspension, with the duo falling at the final hurdle in avoiding a ban for five yellow cards before the January 1 cut-off point.

Both sides threatened at the start of the second half, with Lawrence and Norris trying their luck from range, while the assured Henderson was well positioned to deny Andy King in a flurry of opportunities.

But as the second half wore on, the winner looked less likely to materialise for either side – especially when Ward blazed high and wide from a decent position after Mattock’s enterprising run down the left flank.

While there was the obligatory late charge from Leicester – as Nigel Pearson threw on Jermaine Beckford to appease the agitated home fans – Appleton was more than happy with his side and opted against chasing the winner by changing personnel.

Beckford forced another smart save from Henderson, who then was alert to block the follow-up, before the substitute appealed for a late penalty after a tangle with Mattock.

It would have been harsh on Pompey who were well worth at least a point from the contest, and while there appeared to be contact, Beckford certainly made the most of it with a theatrical fall.

So that was the mixed bag of 2011. As the blank canvas of the new year stretches out, Pompey will hope that 2012 brings change for the better, both on and off the pitch.