The unlikely lads powering Pompey’s League One charge

Kal Naismith has turned his Pompey career around Pic: Joe Pepler
Kal Naismith has turned his Pompey career around Pic: Joe Pepler
Pompey midfielder Ben Close

Pompey injury latest: Close set for return... Naismith doubtful

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The half-time rollicking lasted a full 15 minutes – and it was all aimed fiercely in Kal Naismith’s direction.

Paul Cook’s ire was focused on the Scottish talent for what he believed was 45 minutes of letting his side down on the final day of last season against Northampton.

Naismith’s response? To smash in a peach of a 30 yarder within three minutes of the restart. A reminder of the Scot’s undoubtedly precocious talent at the end of an unfulfilled first campaign at Fratton Park.

‘I shouldn’t have needed to rip into him like that to get the response,’ said Cook when reflecting on the moment earlier in this campaign.

The incident was the pre-cursor to Naismith being planted on the transfer list and handed the ignominy of training with the Academy on his return to pre-season training, his days at Pompey apparently numbered. Ten months on and the swaggering Scot is being feted as the key cog in Pompey’s promotion drive.

It’s a remarkable turnaround for the 25-year-old who cemented his place as his team’s top scorer with the winner against Newport County on Saturday – his 10th goal of the campaign.

A mark of Naismith’s progress was seen in the trepidation which greeted the news of his absence for the defeat at Stevenage, after picking up a hamstring injury against Grimsby. That wouldn’t have been the case 12 months ago. Indeed, Cook himself made a quip to that effect in the former Rangers man’s presence in the build-up to last weekend’s success.

What we are witnessing now is undoubtedly Naismith’s best form of his time at Pompey, and, quite possibly, his whole career.

The talent he possesses has never been in question. Even when Cook stewed over what he felt was a lack of application from the winger he was keen to highlight that. But too often in games he’s driven his manager, and those watching him, to distraction.

One too many stepovers tended to come out of the party bag for the cameras, while team-mates waited for the supply to arrive from his gifted left boot.

The tricks are still there alright, and there have been plenty of moments which have brought the oohs and aahhs from the admiring Blues faithful. Now, though, there’s a purpose to his play and it’s not just for self-gratification.

A total of 34 Pompey appearances have already been made this term – 12 more than he managed in the entirety of the last campaign for his side.

With seven games of the scheduled season remaining, it’s fair to surmise Naismith will be at the forefront of fans’ thoughts when it comes to their player-of-the-year vote.

And few would have anticipated Kyle Bennett and David Forde making late-season charges into contention for the end-of-season honours.

Bennett’s best goalscoring form of his career has had much to do with his team stepping on the gas and opening up a six-point gap on their promotion rivals at a critical moment.

Four goals in as many starts has been the return as he, Naismith and Carl Baker show themselves as the attacking force we all hoped they’d be.

That was perfectly exemplified in the 4-0 tanning of Colchester where attacking intent arrived from every conceivable angle.

At the other end that day Forde was keeping one of the 18 clean sheets he’s picked up since joining on loan.

This is a player who was mocked by a member of his own team’s support for being an ‘old man’ during one game at Fratton Park.

Perhaps Forde’s not in the first flushes of his career, but the Republic of Ireland international was signed to eradicate deficiencies to high balls in the box. As was evident last weekend, that’s not an issue anymore.

Along with Naismith and Bennett, they make for an unlikely trio powering the charge to League One.