Pompey 2 Coventry 1

Greg Halford shows composure from the penalty spot as he gives Pompey a deserved first-half lead against visitors Coventry at Fratton Park
Greg Halford shows composure from the penalty spot as he gives Pompey a deserved first-half lead against visitors Coventry at Fratton Park
Pompey were crowned league champions on this day in 1949. Picture: Pompey History Society

On this day picture gallery: Pompey crowned league champions

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Some things don’t change.

With Pompey’s future yet again in the balance off the pitch, Blues fans have become accustomed to watching their football club playing with an undercurrent of brinkmanship.

To other clubs, the owners sinking into administration and effectively ripping up what promised to be a period of stability and progress would have their supporters wringing their hands in despair.

Not Pompey.

After all, everyone who is a regular visitor to Fratton Park has seen it all before.

So, instead, of mass panic in the wake of this week’s events, a shrug of the shoulders and a steely determination to fight the latest peril is more commonplace around these parts.

While it’s unfortunately all too common for the rest of us, for Michael Appleton, it’s a different story.

Having just joined the club and taken his first managerial position, he must be concerned that his job specification seems to have been written in invisible ink.

But the new Blues boss, who celebrated his 36th birthday yesterday, already seems to have been cut from the same sort of cloth as the most battle-hardened of Pompey fans.

It was telling during the week that there were no complaints from Appleton about the situation he now finds himself in.

His vision for building the club in a five-year process is currently on ice. In fact, it’s probably more of a five-week plan at the moment.

Appleton would be well within his rights to start lining up his excuses to give himself some breathing space and to deflect attention if results on the pitch start to slide.

But, instead, he’s promised that he will continue to work under whatever circumstances he has been dealt – and he’s certainly been true to his word.

The way his side played against Coventry would suggest his influence on the training ground is already starting to show.

And now he has his first win under his belt, everyone will have got a welcome lift.

It will take time to get his message across, but there are signs that subtle differences are certainly creeping into Pompey’s style of play, with their passing already showing a lot more patience than it did under Steve Cotterill.

He has preached about the necessity to keep the ball if there is no killer pass on – even if a small section of fans greet a backwards pass with an occasional groan.

The other key difference was the fact that Pompey actually seemed ready to start the game this time around as the first whistle blew.

Far too often this season and last, the Blues have taken on an air of a grumpy teenager whose been forced out of bed too early with their lethargic starts to games.

That has left them playing catch-up in the second half.

But against Coventry, Pompey enjoyed a half-time lead for only the second time this season after a purposeful first-half showing.

But while a 1-0 advantage was welcome, they should have been out of sight by the time the visitors equalised in the second half.

It didn’t take long for Pompey to start picking holes in the Coventry defence as they went looking for the early goal.

Dave Kitson was the first to test Coventry’s Joe Murphy with a sweetly-struck volley that forced the keeper to parry the ball away from danger.

As the team become accustomed to their new 4-4-1-1 playing system and work out how to get the best from their extra midfielder, Kitson – who is once again operating as a lone striker – must be among those who are yet to be convinced.

And for the time being at least, the former Reading man has again been asked to fulfil a role that many would argue will never get the best from him.

Perhaps that’s an issue for Appleton to address at another time, whose only concern will be how to get the best from the entire team.

For much of the opening period, it was Pompey who were dominating possession, with only fleeting glimpses of the under-worked Stephen Henderson, and they were deservedly in front thanks to a good piece of opportunism from Joel Ward.

A long ball forward from Henderson should have been comfortably dealt with by either Murphy or covering full-back Richard Wood, and quite why one of them didn’t launch it into the stand is anyone’s guess.

But the keeper, attempting to drag the ball back into his area, took a poor touch and succeeded only in chopping Ward down as he nipped in.

It was a cast-iron penalty, and while referee Carl Boyeson looked towards his assistant for guidance on whether it was inside the area, the spot-kick was given after what seemed like a lengthy pause.

Greg Halford – who also scored his only other goal this season from the spot at West Ham – showed the kind of cool nerve required to be a successful penalty-taker as he sent Murphy the wrong way.

It will be interesting to see if regular penalty taker Liam Lawrence is restored to the role when he’s fit again.

Pompey should have been further ahead at the break.

Kitson sent Erik Huseklepp away down the left, only for Hayden Mullins to mis-hit his shot from the cut-back, with Kitson’s subsequent instinctive shot on the turn deflected inches wide.

With Coventry looking like relegation fodder in the first half, they improved after the break and at last started to threaten.

Lukas Jutkiewicz – who is apparently a target for several Premier League clubs – was anonymous in the first 45 minutes but started to show why he has a growing reputation, timing his run to perfection to connect with Wood’s excellent near-post cross and drag his side level, nine minutes after the restart.

But Pompey upped the tempo again and restored their lead just five minutes later.

George Thorne – who is starting to prove himself as an old-school passing midfielder – took a quick free-kick to Ward, who then steadied himself and arrowed an angled shot into the bottom corner for his first goal of the season.

Pompey should have extended their lead, when David Norris somehow stabbed wide from close range, before a Mullins scorcher was tipped over and Huseklepp’s first touch let him down when he was clean through on goal.

Those let-offs allowed the Sky Blues to press again, with impressive substitute Gary McSheffrey going closest, with Henderson racing from his line to make an excellent block.

Blues substitute Luke Varney should have sealed the game in injury time when he went clean through, but while Pompey had to endure the obligatory nervy last few minutes, they held out for a deserved win.