Swansea 1 - Pompey 2

League One round-up

Plymouth held as League One play-off plot thickens

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At around 8pm on Friday night, a bleak winter looked like it was setting in for Steve Cotterill, his Pompey side and the several hundred loyal supporters who made the trip from the south coast.

By 10pm, there was that nice warm glow and the optimism of a mild spring all over again.

Two hours would seem a strange time to change an opinion on how an entire season might pan out.

But there were plenty of Blues fans predicting a relegation struggle after witnessing a horrible start to the clash at the Liberty Stadium.

Later that same evening, those same fans were casting their eye towards the play-offs once more.

It’s amazing what a win can do. With dreadful road conditions for

fans to make the journey, a snow flurry welcomed many almost the moment they had set foot on Welsh soil for a daunting trip to a side who had previously been defeated just once on their home patch all season.

Added to the plummeting temperature and the ongoing loss of sensation in both fingers and toes, things didn’t look a whole lot better out on the pitch after those opening exchanges.

Already trailing 1-0 to Craig Beattie’s second-minute strike, it looked like only a matter of time before Swansea beat Jamie Ashdown again.

The Swansea striker was given alarming room to get his shot away after good work from Angel Rangel and a neat final ball from Mark Gower.

And Beattie made no mistake with a crisp finish into the bottom corner.

With Pompey already enjoying an escape inside the first minute when Darren Pratley failed to hit the target after busy work from Scott Sinclair, a long and difficult night appeared to be on the cards.

The Welsh outfit were quicker to everything, they made intelligent runs and looked a yard sharper in their play as they tore into the Blues down both flanks.

Pompey – shell-shocked from the early blow – had all the hallmarks of a side who had not won in four matches.

Defensively, they were ragged, looked unable to cope with the movement of their opponents and were distinctly second best.

With Cotterill unable to bolster his squad before the emergency loan window deadline, the Blues boss fielded the same side who went down to a poor 1-0 loss at Barnsley the previous weekend.

He simply doesn’t have the resources to change things around at the moment, freshen up the side or attempt anything too outlandish with the formation.

The options just aren’t available to him.

But while he doesn’t have a huge amount of choice, he does have the trust of his players, who have already shown this season that in the face of unfortunate circumstances, they are prepared to dig in and battle for the cause.

That faith is apparently mutual. Cotterill may well tear a strip off a player in the sanctuary of the dressing room but he is not one to criticise his own men in public – regardless of their mistakes.

If he had chosen to break ranks from his usual methods, it would probably be the defence that would have come in for serious stick following their jittery opening to the game.

The gaps were appearing with regularity and the solid-defensive unit that Cotterill craves looked like four individuals attempting to stem the flow as best they could.

Full-backs Joel Ward and Greg Halford were struggling to contain the pace and trickery of Nathan Dyer and Sinclair, while Ricardo Rocha and Aaron Mokoena occasionally looked like they had never met before, let alone played together for the best part of a year.

After the luckless Dave Kitson saw his barren run in front of goal extend to eight matches with an instinctive spin and shot that was tipped over by Dorus De Vries after Halford’s long throw, it was all Swansea once again.

Beattie went close to a second after stabbing wide, Pratley fired at Ashdown, while Dyer went closest of all as his pace took him clear of the Blues defence yet again.

As the former Saints wide man appeared destined to net against his

former club’s fiercest rivals, his angled shot past Ashdown grazed the upright on its way past the post.

Kitson did have the ball in the net for Pompey but Liam Lawrence was adjudged to have handled as the ball skipped up off the turf.

But slowly, slowly the Blues looked to edge their way back into the game.

With half an hour gone, Pompey began to find their passing rhythm again, started to win a few more tackles and the complexion of the game changed – especially when David Nugent converted his chance a couple of minutes break.

Playing off the left barely had a kick until Nugent finished with Hayden Mullins won in the Pompey half who timed his pass clever run with perfection.

From what could been a 3-0 or 4-0 lead Pompey were suddenly looked the better side wore on.

Utaka, playing just Kitson, was the ball, with his trademark drag-backs coming and more.

And just past the had what proved to his latest one-on-one minutes before the left flank and having until that point, with aplomb after won a vital tackle deep and fed John Utaka, to meet Nugent’s perfection.

could conceivably have lead for the home side, suddenly level and now side as the second half just off a vastlyimproved was seeing more of trademark pace and into the game more hour mark, Pompey to be the winner when Halford stole in unmarked to power a downward header beyond De Vries from Lawrence’s pinpoint set-piece delivery to spark joyous scenes in the away section.

While Swansea attempted to find their feet once again, the Blues defenders who had looked so shorn of confidence and organisation in the first half, stood tall, making blocks and vital interceptions at critical times.

It was an incredible transformation, with Rocha in particularly outstanding form at the back, marshalling the rearguard.

Apart from a few hairy moments as the clock ticked down, there was nothing too specific for Ashdown to do as Pompey kept their discipline and illustrated the togetherness that Cotterill continues to point out.

From what could have been a heavy, demoralising defeat, Pompey plucked an away win that will not be matched by too many sides at the Liberty Stadium this season.

Relegation candidates to play-off chasers in the blink of an eye.

That’s Pompey for you – it’s rarely dull.