Preston 1 - Pompey 0

Danny Rose. Picture: Joe Pepler

Rose closing in on Pompey comeback

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It took a former Scunthorpe, Barnsley and Huddersfield striker to deliver the message.

Not so much a gentle reminder, more an ear-splitting alarm call.

Paul Hayes donned the robes, pulled on his breeches, perched a three-cornered hat on his head and produced a bell to rival John Westwood’s.

His town crier delivery was loud and clear.

This is going to be a long, hard season for Pompey. Now everybody knows it.

Time for those still blissfully dreaming of an instant return to the Premier League to wake up – and there are such positive thinkers out there.

Nothing wrong with a touch of optimism, mind. Except in this instance it is completely misplaced.

So it was left to Preston’s Hayes to hammer home the unwelcome point at precisely 3.18pm on Saturday.

Billy Jones’ cross came in from the right, Ibrahima Sonko made a hash of cutting it out and there was the striker to finish.

It was the decisive goal, although in truth the hosts should have won far more emphatically.

Quite a contrast to a genuine undercurrent of pre-match feeling this could be the encounter to see Steve Cotterill pick up his first Championship win of the campaign.

After all, Pompey were facing a side humbled 4-0 at Swansea in their previous encounter, a team already anchored to the foot of the table.

The Lilywhites represented a club forced to clear out their major wage earners and bring in loanees to supplement their squad.

This was the perfect time for the Blues’ league season to get up and running.

Except the outcome instead delivered the damning reality that a relegation battle is beckoning as well as a potential second-successive demotion.

Of course, so much hinges on the names – and numbers – recruited ahead of the transfer window closing a week tomorrow.

The presence of Sam Sodje at training in the early part of last week may have attracted disproving looks from some, yet players are needed. And fast.

On Saturday, Cotterill’s bench again contained a mere four substitutes, that despite the return of Tommy Smith and Aaron Mokoena.

Their availability did, at least, create a first-team line-up which looked strong on paper, certainly compared to Preston.

As it turned out, however, Pompey turned in an abject display with the hosts embarrassing them comprehensively.

To think, of that starting line-up so humiliated, Marc Wilson, Mokoena and Smith continue to be linked with moves away.

It remains to be seen whether they even last at Fratton Park for the remainder of the transfer window.

The next eight days could well decide the destination this season is heading in as fans wait with baited breath to see who comes and who goes out of that revolving door.

As ever with Pompey, though, there are catches – and with transfer embargoes and no money to spend, it is going to be a tough, tough recruitment drive.

Not that the continued squad shortfall should be allowed to excuse the display those still here conjured up against Preston.

No question about it, Cotterill fielded a strong side, even if he did have to put several out of position to accommodate.

This time around, Marc Wilson was charged with serving as an attacking midfielder rather than a central defender.

Yet while a move back into the centre of the park should be applauded, he was lost in a new role where he was asked to knit together the midfield behind him with the striker.

Not that Cotterill had a choice, his lack of squad options decided that.

With John Utaka injured and Smith on the left wing, Wilson stepped forward, yet struggled as a result.

Still, at least he had an excuse, others served up dreadful displays in their accustomed positions.

From impressing against former club Reading last weekend, Sonko demonstrated the flip-side of the coin with an abject showing.

He and the recalled Mokoena endured a torrid time at the hands of teenage striker Josh King from start to finish.

Had it not been for Jamie Ashdown, the scoreline would have been just as emphatic as Preston’s performance.

Incidentally, King is a Manchester United player on loan at Deepdale, Darren Ferguson’s Old Trafford links paying off in spades.

On this showing, he looks a star in the making – just ask Sonko and Mokoena.

In midfield, the hosts’ energy and enthusiasm left Michael Brown and Richard Hughes chasing shadows.

Brown, in particular, was hassled and harried out of possession too many times to remember as his disappointing start to the season continues.

Elsewhere, recent hero Nadir Ciftci was anonymous while a clearly rusty Smith toiled away without too much to show for it.

As for David Nugent, the man tagged a ‘modern-day legend’ by the PA announcer and greeted as such by the home fans, he was dominated by close friend Sean St Ledger.

In fairness, the service delivered his way was non-existent ensuring he didn’t even have a sniff of a chance to cap his Preston return with a goal.

Mind, it was ill-conceived and a tad disrespectful at the final whistle to don a Lilywhites shirt and applaud their support rather than show his appreciation to the Blues fans that continue to back him.

The contribution of Ashdown should not be overlooked, however, as he continues to win over those who doubt his presence.

The fact he was behind England’s number one for so long raises doubts over his quality in some Pompey quarters.

Yet on Saturday he produced a string of one-on-one stops to thwart King in particular and keep the scoreline down.

At the other end, such was the visitors’ ineffectiveness, they were merely restricted to long-range efforts.

More depressing, not a single one managed to force Andy Lonergan into a decent save.

Not that Pompey deserved any crumb of comfort from a match they had been found wanting so badly.

Make no mistake, this is going to be another long, hard season.