Why Pompey have stood firm against a top-six onslaught

Luke Varney celebrates his valuable strike against Middlesbrough on the opening day of the season
Luke Varney celebrates his valuable strike against Middlesbrough on the opening day of the season
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Sol Campbell on his return to Fratton Park in December. Picture: Joe Pepler

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The hustling and jostling is dying down, now the Championship’s top six is beginning to take shape.

Yet, for Pompey, it reads like a 2011-12 fixture list.

Of those sides currently occupying the promotion and play-off spots after six games, Steve Cotterill’s men have already faced four.

Brighton, Middlesbrough, West Ham and Cardiff – they’re all there.

What’s more, the quartet have lost a mere two league games between them so far.

It’s a sobering sight from a start to the campaign which was widely tipped to be tough.

Regardless, Steve Cotterill’s men find themselves in 14th spot at present.

They have also shown they have nothing to fear from the current top six.

Victory over last season’s play-off finalists Reading and a point at Bristol City complete the opening results.

Yet, a haul of six points is to be applauded considering the quality of opposition faced.

That doesn’t prevent some sections of Pompey support demanding plenty more, however.

Harsh, considering Liam Lawrence’s last-gasp penalty miss would have produced a point against leaders Brighton.

Hard-hearted considering a highly-controversial spot-kick put the Blues on the road to a loss at West Ham last weekend.

Incidentally, it was also a match which arguably drew Pompey’s best performance of the campaign.

That against a team with a self-confessed wage bill of £35m and the overwhelming favourites to take the Championship title.

Don’t dare suggest it gets any easier. Of the top six, Derby and Southampton are the only sides Pompey have not yet faced.

If that quirk of the fixture list wasn’t bad enough, this weekend they travel to ninth-placed Hull.

Then it is back to Fratton Park to take on a Blackpool outfit currently sat in seventh spot.

Sadly, the likes of Coventry, Doncaster, Barnsley, Watford and Millwall will have to wait a while yet.

For Cotterill, the tough start to the campaign continues to drag on.

He said: ‘If you look back at our start before the international break, we’ve played two sides who are in the top three or four in Brighton and Middlesbrough.

‘The two other teams we’ve played were in the play-offs last season. The other one was Bristol City away, which is always a tough game.

‘We always knew it would be a tough first 10 or 12 games.

‘If you look at our next few, we’ve got Hull City away and Blackpool at home.

‘In West Ham and Blackpool, they are two sides who were relegated from the Premier League last season. That is before we come to Peterborough at home and Leeds away.

‘We know we’ve had a tough start given to us – and we haven’t done too badly, really.’

Few could have anticipated at the time how impressive the point the Blues secured at Middlesbrough was.

Luke Varney’s dramatic late leveller secured a 2-2 draw on the opening day of the season.

Tony Mowbray’s side have since chalked up four league wins and remain unbeaten.

They currently sit third in the table.

Next up for Cotterill’s men was the visit of newly-promoted Brighton.

The right-hand post denied them seizing a point, Lawrence’s penalty for once going awry.

To date, Brighton are top of the Championship and undefeated. They have also failed to win just one of their opening six matches.

What followed for Pompey was a superb Fratton triumph over Reading.

Dave Kitson got the only goal in a game which provided an entertaining spectacle.

The next fixture was a trip to Bristol City – the venue for the ending of last season’s six successive wins.

That finished in a goalless draw, only lit up by the late entrance of latest signing Erik Huseklepp off the bench.

It was then back to Fratton Park for the visit of a Cardiff side who have enjoyed a fine start under Malky Mackay.

Fans were disappointed with the quality of football in the encounter.

Nonetheless, Kanu’s late leveller took a point against a team who currently sit sixth in the table.

Finally, last weekend Cotterill’s troops ventured to West Ham, only to suffer a 4-3 defeat to a team who now occupy fourth position.

Still, it leaves four of the top six teams out of the way before the second week in September.

They’re reasons to be optimistic over Pompey’s current placing.

Certainly, the Blues have not been outplayed by so-called teams firmly in the promotion hunt. Then again, with Hull and Blackpool to come, the fixtures aren’t going to be kinder for a little while yet.