Pompey 0 Middlesbrough 0

Dave Kitson has his header cleared off the line by Nicky Bailey
Dave Kitson has his header cleared off the line by Nicky Bailey
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Jez Bedford in Pompey training. Picture: Sarah Standing (170841)

Jackett: Pompey youngster knows what is required if called upon

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It was five years ago when Pedro Mendes conjured up one of the greatest moments in modern-day Pompey history.

How fitting then that in Saturday’s corresponding weekend there should be a game devoid of magic and – more to the point – goals.

Not that these days the Blues require last-gasp intervention to put them on the road to the Great Escape, as Mendes so brilliantly achieved.

But how this match needed rescuing.

For the special anniversary, courtesy of what that special Portuguese midfielder achieved, was as underwhelming as they come.

The clash with Middlesbrough was played with heart, granted, but was criminally uninspiring.

The choked fixture list of late appeared to have sapped the energy of a Pompey side visibly wilting from the recent heroics which secured their Championship safety.

Flying wide men David Nugent and David Cotterill not so much had their wings clipped but had fallen asleep in the nest.

Even the impervious Joel Ward seemed affected.

His excellent high-octane game dipping into the red on the energy gauge.

Still, for the 21-year-old who has defied expectations and pre-conceptions all season, that barrier was always going to be hastily constructed in his path at some time.

Such was the lack of captivating football, those supporters sat behind Paul Walsh during his regular Sky bulletins chose to pass the time of day by waving to the camera at every opportunity.

You cannot blame them, in fairness.

And the man orchestrating this great gladiatorial spectacle was referee Phil Crossley, who later drew criticism from Steve Cotterill for not allowing the game to flow.

Never this season have Pompey fans witnessed the delaying of corners so frequently to ensure the ball was properly placed.

Mind you, during a second-half meltdown, the precious Crossley seemed to lose all sense of proportion, such was the fastidious nature of his performance.

It hardly made for the most compelling of matches – not that anyone was richly anticipating a flashback to the Mendes match.

It was back on March 11, 2006, when the former Spurs man rifled in a spectacular winner past Manchester City’s David James to secure a priceless victory.

It was a result which famously set the Great Escape in motion – and also saved Harry Redknapp’s job.

Pre-match on that fateful day, skipper Dejan Stefanovic told the players a board meeting had already been held and Sacha Gaydamak had decided to hand out a P45 to their boss.

As it turned out, it was never issued.

Still, in the here and now, the current incumbent of the Fratton hot-seat need not worry about his future.

Such has been his impressive time in the role, the once relegation-threatened Blues are staying up with nine games to spare.

Not bad for a team who spent 27 days in September flailing bottom of the table and went 10 games without a win in all competitions at the turn of the year.

There are even suggestions from Cotterill himself that the play-offs remain a realistic goal. A big ask, unquestionably, yet with these clean sheets continuing to be racked up, it could be in the realms of possibility.

And it was another shut-out on Saturday – the fifth in a row at Fratton – which emerged as the only bright spot.

Well that and a ring-rusty reintroduction of Liam Lawrence from the bench midway into the second half for the tiring Ward.

The talismanic midfielder’s return to the fray after five matches out with a troublesome calf problem – albeit after one day’s training – will certainly help fire up those lofty aspirations of the Championship play-offs.

Mind you, failing to beat a struggling Middlesbrough side at home just as quickly dampens such ambitions.

In truth, Pompey should have been home and dry within the first 45 minutes. They weren’t, though, and were left to curse it during a painful second half in which the visitors improved considerably.

The decisive moment came on 23 minutes when Jonathan Hogg clipped in a cross from the left to find the head of Hermann Hreidarsson.

His powerful header ricocheted off the bar and bounced to safety, agonisingly out of reach of a number of his team-mates following up.

Considering it was the highlight of the match, you would think the Football League Show would get the identity of the architect right.

Not in this case, however.

They instead, bewilderingly, claimed it was Ritchie de Laet behind the header.

Not that you needed to be eagle-eyed to spot the non-deliberate mistake.

Still, the same half also saw Rhys Williams produce a close-range block to thwart Dave Kitson after Nugent had teed him up.

Then Nugent himself fired across keeper Paul Smith, only for the ex-Southampton man to block with his out-stretched right foot.

And that was it.

The second half dipped alarmingly in entertainment value as Pompey struggled to create and Middlesbrough stepped up their own game.

Tony Mowbray’s side could even have snatched victory through substitute Marvin Emnes, who saw his shot from the left flank pushed around the post by Jamie Ashdown.

If anything, Emnes and fellow sub Merouane Zemmama proved more threatening than what Pompey had to offer in that second period.

Not even Kanu’s introduction could provide the customary magic.

Of course, not everyone was unhappy with the result, in particular a Middlesbrough side lying in 20th place and glancing nervously over the shoulder.

It was a fine result for them given the context of their grave situation – a position Pompey themselves shared just five weeks ago.

Back then, Nugent fired in a spectacular last-gasp equaliser against Derby.

It set Pompey on the way to six consecutive victories and a post-war record-equalling six successive clean sheets.

It was also a run which has kept them in the Championship with plenty of games to spare.

That Nugent goal was Pompey’s most recent Pedro Mendes moment.

Yet, five years on, we all remember that goal – and Sam Matterface’s accompanying commentary – as if it were yesterday.