Pompey 2 Cambridge United 1

Kwesi Appiah's second-half header ensured a tense finale at Fratton Park
Kwesi Appiah's second-half header ensured a tense finale at Fratton Park
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Jamal Lowe. Picture: Mark Robinson

Pompey v Blackpool: pre-match talking points

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Richard Money fixed his steely glare on the reporter with rage seeping from every pore.

You would have been forgiven for thinking the Cambridge boss had just had the legitimacy of his children questioned by the bewildered hack, in the aftermath of his side’s defeat.

Instead, he was simply asked why he felt Pompey could win the League Two title – a reference to comments he made in the build-up to Saturday’s pulsating meeting.

‘I didn’t say Portsmouth could win the title,’ the U’s boss growled with his withering glare burning into the focus of his attention. ‘I said they will win the title.’

Maybe the adrenalin was still coursing through the man who wore royal blue in the ’80s, but it was a surreal moment at the end of a pulsating afternoon.

Andy Awford won’t thank him for that assessment, as he bids to keep a vice-like grip on expectations this season.

He was diplomatic, however, as he responded to the comments within the U’s manager’s earshot.

‘So you reckon we are going to win the title?’ the Pompey boss smiled, as he raised his voice in Money’s direction. ‘Well, I think it might be a bit early to say that.’

There’s little doubt the Cambridge manager’s words, whether heartfelt or not, were designed to up the ante going into the first day of league football at Fratton Park.

He was aware Pompey too often froze under the weight of expectation on their own patch last season.

Eight league defeats were testament to that, with the mix of a stuttering home side and away players inspired by the Fratton occasion making a horrible cocktail for home fans to swallow.

But this time it was a different story. This time the boot was on the other foot.

As Money delivered a skewed opinion his team dominated proceedings, he bemoaned what he believed was a desire for his newly-promoted side to enjoy the occasion – at the expense of looking for a result.

Maybe that was the case. Like many before them over the past 12 months, this was Cambridge’s big day out.

They were also taking on a side determined to seize the initiative, play on the front foot and go for the jugular, however.

From the moment PO4 echoed with the noise of 16,671 people paying tribute to lifelong Pompey fan and club employee Eddy Wilson, in a poignant minute’s applause following his death in June, the mindset was in place.

Awford’s men played at the tempo their manager demands. They pressed high up the pitch with the vigour he’s been calling for.

Cambridge, though, are no mugs.

Anyone who saw them win the FA Trophy in March would testify to that.

Likewise, their Conference promotion last season.

That paved the way for a first 45 minutes with a dynamic which belonged to a NBA basketball match rather than the English fourth tier.

Even before Jed Wallace put up a pitching wedge of a 25-yarder which had keeper Chris Dunn scrambling to tip his shot over in the sixth minute, the game incessantly ebbed and flowed.

The visitors should have been in front two minutes later, after another straightforward ball carved open the middle of Pompey’s defence.

The outcome appeared inevitable when Kwesi Appiah, who once scored 35 goals in 34 games while at Margate, strode through and took aim from eight yards.

His predatory instinct deserted him, though, as he fired into the advertising hoardings. The sense of relief was palpable.

It was the home side who were stronger in the constant grappling, however, the team more likely to get their rival in a chokehold.

Sixty seconds which saw Ryan Taylor given half a second’s space to crack a 25-yarder just wide, and the mercurial Miles Storey rattle the bar from 30 yards underlined that.

It was Storey, clearly a player who revels in the opportunity to perform on a big stage, who was the architect for the opener 11 minutes before the break.

There were a few tantalising glimpses of promising link-up play with Taylor in the Swindon loanee’s breathless display.

The ball he put on his head for the striker to finish in textbook number nine fashion was the most mouthwatering, though.

From there, it should have been easy.

Pompey were in the ascendancy and the vitality Cambridge did possess drained from them.

The home crowd could smell blood, and sensed the second goal which would have put the game to bed was near.

That was until a moment three minute’s before the break Adam Webster will quickly want to forget.

Quite why the teenager saw fit to lunge in on Harrison Dunk midway in the Cambridge man’s own half, only he will know. Actually, even he probably doesn’t.

‘I’ve had a word with him,’ was Awford’s succinct reply after the game. It was a sentiment abruptly repeated when pushed on the subject.

It was an ugly tackle, but not as ugly as it was stupid, with not even the slightest danger imminent.

After a more debatable earlier caution, a second yellow inevitably followed – and a door which was on the verge of being slammed shut was opened for the U’s.

Webster knew his mistake and will learn. What followed, though, told the home crowd much about their team – and their manager.

Pompey were expected to shut up shop at this stage and Money’s forward-thinking half-time substitution spoke of that expectation.

Awford, though, sent out a team with no intention of battening down the hatches.

In fact, it was the home side who showed the greater attacking intent, albeit in measured bouts of counter-attacking play.

And they were rewarded for that bravery in the most bizarre fashion 24 minutes from time.

The impressive Ryan Donaldson had cannoned a shot back off the bar when more Pompey positivity yielded a corner.

Jack Whatmough, again shining at both ends of the pitch, met Ricky Holmes’ delivery, but the danger seemed averted when the ball fell to Cambridge man Liam Hughes.

Inexplicably, he chose to fire his clearance against defender Tom Bonner, and saw the ball cannon off his team-mate and past the helpless Dunn. Anyone with footage can send it to You’ve Been Framed for an easy £250.

Still, a relaxing finale is out of the question in Pompey’s world, and it was Appiah who ensured that wouldn’t be the case with his header three minutes later.

What supporters witnessed from there was a team refusing to wilt under the strain, and a team with the resolve to hold on to a lead a man light.

One player admitted the Pompey of 12 months ago wouldn’t have been able to hold out in the face of such an onslaught.

This Pompey can, though.

In the build-up to the match, Awford stressed a belief his players were capable of seizing upon Fratton’s fervour – and not sinking under its glare.

That’s exactly what happened as the grand, old lady rocked over the game’s finale.

Fans embracing, players embracing fans.

Despite what people are saying, it’s way too early to say whether that’s a recipe for championship glory.

But it’s not a bad start.

Watch highlights of Pompey v Cambridge here