Pompey 1 Reading 0

Dave Kitson scores the winner for Pompey against Reading at Fratton Park
Dave Kitson scores the winner for Pompey against Reading at Fratton Park
Nathan Thompson has served his four-match suspension Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey boss weighs up role for returning duo

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Benjani Mwaruwari and Erik Huseklepp may have been the names on every Pompey fans’ lips but it was a striking rival who lit up Fratton Park.

Dave Kitson has largely struggled to convince Blues fans since arriving in August last year.

But on the night centre stage was set for Benjani to produce a star turn and rumours were rife of Huseklepp’s arrival, it was the former Reading man who became the hero.

The decisive moment against Reading came in the 51st minute when Liam Lawrence swung in a corner from the right.

Kitson had already missed a gilt-edged opportunity in the first half, with just Adam Federici to beat.

That close-range chance prompted the Fratton faithful to sing substitute Benjani’s name in response.

However, when Lawrence’s delivery came in, Kitson was there to volley home from eight yards past the visiting keeper.

It marked Pompey’s first goal in 529 minutes at Fratton Park.

It was also their first win in any competition for 12 matches, stretching back to March 19 when they triumphed at Leicester.

What’s more, it was the man put under pressure by Benjani’s arrival who had secured it.

Of course, the folk hero climbed off the bench in the 76th minute to make his long-awaited second Blues debut.

He even produced a clever piece of skill to create an opportunity for Luke Varney, who struck the foot of the post with his effort.

But it was Kitson’s occasion as Pompey produced a magnificent display which was just what the fans and Steve Cotterill had ordered.

Greg Halford also hit the woodwork from distance, while Jimmy Kebe’s header struck the post.

But the Blues deserved their first win of the season against a team who destroyed Leicester at the weekend.

And with Huseklepp set to sign a three-year contract in a £1.5m deal today, optimism is suddenly high again in these parts.

Pompey’s controversial ticket pricing resulted in another tremendously low crowd, this time registering just 13,438.

At £27 a seat for adults on this occasion, fans are continuing to stay away from Fratton Park.

Not that it had any impact on the atmosphere, the vociferous home support were at their imposing best under the floodlit night sky.

And they certainly celebrated a precious victory to get the season finally up and running.

Having had to wait for Jason Pearce to serve his three-match ban, Cotterill couldn’t resist giving his summer recruit an instant debut upon his availability.

The former Bournemouth man’s arrival in the centre of defence prompted a defensive reshuffle to accommodate him, with Aaron Mokoena moving to right-back.

In turn, Tal Ben Haim switched to left-back, with Hermann Hreidarsson omitted from the squad completely.

Another failing to make the final 16 was Christian Dailly, as the Blues boss had all 18 of his squad to choose from for the first time.

Meanwhile, Benjani was on the bench upon his Pompey return after three-and-a-half years away.

He was joined by Joel Ward, who dropped out of the side to accommodate the return of Dave Kitson.

The striker, who sat on the bench in the Brighton defeat after being hampered by a groin problem, was fit enough to start against his former employers Reading. He was part of a strikeforce also containing Kanu as Cotterill opted to field two up front for the first time this season.

It took just 45 seconds for Pompey to stage their first meaningful attack on the Royals goal, and it could have seen them take the lead.

Varney scurried down the left flank and his low cross was aimed towards Kitson but Alex Pearce deflected it just past the post.

For some in the ground, it appeared as if the ball had hit the back of the net, yet the Royals survived.

In a lively opening, Ashdown then brilliantly pushed Ian Harte’s viciously in-swinging corner brilliantly over the bar.

On 10 minutes, Greg Halford delivered a sublime 50-yard pass to put Kitson racing through but he failed to control a difficult bouncing ball.

It was impressive stuff from Cotterill’s men and they came even closer to breaking the deadlock three minutes later.

Reading were struggling to clear and when Kanu calmly laid the ball into the path of Halford, the defender saw his blistering 25-yarder pushed on to the crossbar by Adam Federici.

Jobi McAnuff had an opportunity for the visitors following excellent work down the right by the ever-dangerous Kebe but skied his first-time shot well over the bar.

It was end-to-end stuff and next up Kitson was put through by David Norris, only to see his close-range shot blocked by Federici when, in truth, he should have scored.

Still the action continued, with Kebe’s thunderous far-post header from McAnuff’s cross crashing against the post.

Pompey were next to go close with another glaring miss – this time from Norris who side-footed Varney’s pull-back past the post from close range with the goal gaping.

But on 51 minutes, the hosts finally did take the lead.

Lawrence’s corner came in from the right and there was Kitson to fire a volley on the run from eight yards out past Federici.

With just one goal in it, the Blues were always going to be susceptible. And sure enough, Ashdown had to produce a magnificent save on 70 minutes, somehow finger-tipping Jem Karacan’s close-range shot past the post.

But Pompey continued to threaten and Varney hit the post late on following good work from Benjani.

The fourth official indicated five minutes of time added on to add to the home fans’ nerves.

But the Blues stood firm to claim a well-deserved triumph.