Same old story against Chelsea but new chapter is beginning to take shape

Luke Varney sees his penalty saved by Hilario
Luke Varney sees his penalty saved by Hilario
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Adam May. Picture: Mark Robinson

Pompey boss: Youngster can prove critics wrong

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Missed penalties are never especially appetising.

But if you’re going to miss from 12 yards, you might as well do it in a pre-season friendly when the result is not all that important.

Pompey have an annoying habit of missing spot-kicks against Chelsea.

The last one was Prince Boateng’s scuffed pea-roller which cost the Blues their chance of pulling off one of the greatest FA Cup final shocks of all time as Petr Cech kicked it away and booted Pompey’s hopes with it.

That was the last time the two clubs met and it’s fair to say a bit of water has passed under the bridge since then.

But a year and a bit later, Luke Varney’s effort, which was well saved by the foot of his post by the otherwise erratic Chelsea keeper Hilario, sparked more of a tut and a roll of the eyes rather than the grief-stricken Boateng’s slump to the Wembley turf as he realised he had cost his side the FA Cup.

There’s no doubt about it, Pompey have made significant progress in the period of time since they last played against the west London outfit.

At the time, Pompey were already relegated, in administration and bracing themselves for a summer of uncertainty and serious doubts over whether the club would actually exist by the end of it.

Thankfully, those worrying days have been safely negotiated.

And it was significant that on Saturday new owners Roman Dubov and Vladimir Antonov were in attendance for the first time to see what their hard-earned cash had bought them.

On the pitch, it remains a work in progress and boss Steve Cotterill is still eager to make some important brushstrokes on his piece of art between now and the start of the campaign.

He’s still playing with a few ideas but he’s definitely got the outline and a bit of the background filled in.

Chuck in an enigmatic smile here and there and he could well be on to something, although it won’t happen overnight.

But if Mr Dubov and Mr Antonov had concerns over the assets they have acquired – with Fratton Park hardly a state-of-the-art facility – they only had to look around to see more than 19,000 people alongside them to know they have strong foundations to build upon.

Pompey fans turned out in their numbers once again. What else is new?

Perhaps a healthy number came to see the superstars of Chelsea but a lot more came along to get a glimpse of what the new Pompey will look like.

Interestingly, some of the new breed look a lot like the old guard.

Aaron Mokoena turned in a fine display, firstly in midfield where he stifled Chelsea and raised his sometimes careless distribution levels by a healthy margin.

Later, the South African also turned in a decent shift in central defence.

Cynics would suggest his display could be down to the fact he is angling for a move away.

But while the former Blackburn Rovers man has occasionally been a model of inconsistency during his time at Pompey, his commitment has never been questioned.

And Mokoena in this mood looks like an important player in the Pompey squad.

Elsewhere, Tal Ben Haim returned to play at Fratton Park for the first time in well over a year – his last match was in March 2010 when the Blues suffered a 2-1 home defeat to Birmingham City.

Some thought – and some no doubt hoped – they had seen the last of the Israeli whose pockets have bulged with a salary that continues to leave you shaking your head at the competence of the people who negotiated it.

But aside from a comical own goal – where he could only plant a firm header past Stephen Henderson after Fernando Torres flashed over a cross that Greg Halford missed – Ben Haim turned in a determined shift at right-back.

More importantly, he looked like he actually wanted to be there. As a footballer, he’s certainly no mug and the defender would rightly argue it was not his fault he was offered a contract that remains a mighty burden on the club’s coffers.

But his commitment to the cause has been questioned in recent times – a thigh injury keeping him out for far longer than it should have done as Pompey plummeted under Avram Grant, only to clear up just in time for him to be on the bench for the FA Cup final.

Ben Haim knows he has yet to win the Blues fans over but his only way to do that is by his performances on the pitch and he set a decent precedent with his display.

Of the new recuits, Varney buzzed around and fluffed his one real sight at goal from the spot. Although, he could also have twice profited from almost identical mix-ups between Hilario and Nathaniel Chalobah – the second of which saw Chelsea skipper John Terry’s raised boot catch him somewhere in the chest as he attempted to clear the danger.

It didn’t look too pretty but whether there was any malice in it, only Terry will know.

David Norris looks like a player the supporters will appreciate, with his late forward runs giving Pompey another attacking dimension.

And his precision throughball for Varney to win the penalty – as Hilario clipped his legs – showed that an understanding is already building there.

The Chelsea goalkeeper, meanwhile, would certainly have been sent off in a competitive fixture but received a common sense yellow card from referee Keith Stroud.

Of the other new faces, Stephen Henderson didn’t have an awful lot to do in the Pompey goal other than pick Ben Haim’s unfortunate header out of the net but he did what else was required without too much fuss,

Meanwhile new defender Jason Pearce showed with three diving blocks in quick succession, that if an opposition striker should happen to be firing a cannon at the Blues goal, then he’s the man who will volunteer to dive in front of it.

In truth, Chelsea – who fielded two entirely different sides in each half, both packed with international stars – didn’t really need to fire on all cylinders to win a game that never really hit top gear.

But Pompey showed they have a few tricks of their own in what both sides will see as a useful workout.

With a bit of luck, Cotterill’s men might have a few more by the time they are back on these shores after their trip to USA.

And the manager might even have a few more new faces to parade – if he gets his way – by the time they next play in this country.