Pompey 2 Wigan 1: Neil Allen’s match report

Brett Pitman scored his 20th goal of the season for Pompey against Wigan. Picture: Joe Pepler
Brett Pitman scored his 20th goal of the season for Pompey against Wigan. Picture: Joe Pepler
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A vibrant Fratton Park chimed to the tune ‘We’re on our Way’ during the second half.

The soundtrack to the League Two title success has been increasingly invoked in recent weeks, accompanying growing belief in a genuine play-off push.

Fittingly, however, it was at its boisterous best upon last night’s return of that promotion architect Paul Cook.

The 51-year-old was back on the south coast for the first match since the glorious season finale against Cheltenham, 10 months and 28 days later to be precise.

As Harry Redknapp found out all those years ago, not every reunion is a memorable occasion, particularly at Fratton.

Wigan, the side which started the day leading League One, were toppled 2-1 by a tireless Blues team brimming with infinite heart and desire.

And with it a fourth-successive triumph stoked up those play-off aspirations which at one time seemed pure flights of fantasy.

Cook may not have received the wrath of supporters upon his return, but opponents featuring a number of his former players did pile on an uncomfortable evening.

Granted, there were renditions of ‘Cookie what’s the score’ with occasional sightings of inflatable snakes among the crowd, particularly in North stand lower.

However, Wigan’s boss was applauded by Pompey fans gathered upon arrival of the Latics’ team coach, stopping to sign autographs and pose for photos.

The majority of the Fratton faithful retain immense admiration for his Blues achievements during a 107-game spell which ended in contentious circumstances in May 2017.

Yet Kenny Jackett’s side demonstrated no such respect as Brett Pitman’s penalty and Jamal Lowe’s second-half strike laid the foundations in the hard-working Blues’ favour.

To a man this Jackett team dug in, chasing lost causes, and displaying exhausting fitness levels in gutsy pursuit of victory.

There was the set-back of Will Griggs’ headed consolation from substitute Gary Roberts’ cross, but this was Pompey’s day.

Fratton Park, with a crowd of 17,842, was at times at its pulsating best during the televised contest.

And Cook remained to shake the hand of every shattered Pompey player at the final whistle before departing to his defeated dressing room.

Jackett was missing Dion Donohue for the televised encounter, with partner due to give birth.

Instead Brandon Haunstrup was promoted from the bench to serve as left-back for the only change to the side which defeated Walsall on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Anton Walkes continued in the centre of midfield, following a successful positional switch at the Bescot Stadium, with Nathan Thompson at right-back.

There was a return into the squad for Conor Chaplin, taking a place on the bench vacated by the promoted Haunstrup.

As for Wigan, Gary Roberts was named among the substitutes on his Fratton Park reunion.

There was, however, no place for another member of last season’s title-winning squad, Noel Hunt.

The former Reading striker had travelled with the Latics, yet instead sat in the press box on co-commentary duties for the local Wigan radio station.

When the match kicked off, it was the hosts who staged the first meaningful attack.

Gareth Evans delivered a cross from the right, with Chey Dunkley doing superbly to get ahead of Brett Pitman to bundle the ball behind for a corner.

On 10 minutes, Evans was caught in possession just outside the box and Max Power drove in a fierce shot which took a subtle deflection from a Blues body on its way past the post.

Callum Elder collected the first booking of the game following a foul on Lowe down the right flank.

On 25 minutes, Thompson conceded a free-kick down the right for a poor challenge on Nick Powell, earning a booking in the process.

Powell delivered the free-kick, with Dan Burn heading the ball back across goal from the far post, but the hosts managed to clear their lines.

The Latics’ Michael Jacobs then went down in Pompey’s box amid appeals for a penalty as he tangled with Thompson, but the referee saw nothing wrong.

Cook received a word from referee Tim Robinson on 29 minutes over his conduct in the technical area, the match official indicating a final warning.

The breakthrough arrived on 40 minutes, with it going to the hosts.

Close won the penalty, wriggling inside the box only to be felled by Burn, the referee wasting little time in pointing to the spot.

The duties went to Pitman, who emphatically finished right-footed into the bottom corner, keeper Christian Walton diving in the opposite direction.

Moments later Elder sent a poor header back towards his keeper, latched onto by Pitman, whose shot was brilliantly stopped by Walton, parrying it for a corner.

Fratton Park was vibrant and a magnificent flying defensive header from Jack Whatmough prevented Powell getting on the end of Nathan Byrne’s cross from the right.

Within seconds of the restart the Latics earned a free-kick, which was headed clear.

Pompey increased their lead on 55 minutes with a moment of quality from Lowe.

Thompson rolled the ball into his feet from the right and the winger, with back to goal, swivelled and fired in a left-footed shot past Walton.

Wigan made a double substitution on 66 minutes, with Grigg and Ryan Colclough introduced for Gavin Massey and Vaughan.

On 69 minutes, a stunning stop from Luke McGee denied Powell, the Wigan man squeezing his way through down the left and thwarted by the onrushing keeper.

McGee produced another wonderful stop on 77 minutes, Michael Jacobs’ delivery from the right was met with a fierce volley from Griggs, which the keeper pushed away.

Pompey maintained their attacking capabilities also and, with time ticking down, Evans fired in a 30-yard right-footed effort which fizzed past the post.

Wigan were handed a lifeline on 89 minutes when substitute Roberts clipped in ball from the left which was headed home at the far post by Grigg.

There was to be no equaliser, however, as Fratton Park rejoiced another memorable Cook match – this time with the Scouser on the opposing side.