Wigan 1 Pompey 1: Jordan Cross’ match report

Conor Chaplin. Picture: Joe Pepler
Conor Chaplin. Picture: Joe Pepler
Louis Dennis. Picture: Neil Marshall

Dennis shines as Pompey XI beat Gosport

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Conor Chaplin was too diplomatic to put the boot in.

But a cheeky grin aimed in his former manager’s direction spoke a thousand words.

The striker’s smile widened as recalled the encounter, yards away from where the incident took place on the edge of the home technical area at the DW Stadium.

‘I did catch his eye when I was coming back,’ the striker chortled as he relived his point-saving intervention against Wigan. ‘He could see I was looking at him and he was looking at me and started laughing. I couldn’t help but giggle as well.’

The smiling assassin was back in business.

There were a few sticks Paul Cook was beaten with in his time at PO4, but none weightier than the perceived underuse of the darling homegrown talent of Fratton Park.

Publicly, Chaplin kept his own counsel over a season which saw him start 13 games and go 17 matches without a full appearance.

Privately, however, it’s fair to say the 20-year-old was peeved at his treatment.

So it was a revved-up Chaplin who entered the fray with 16 minutes remaining on Saturday.

What preceded his introduction wasn’t quite Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor - but it was verging on a mismatch. While McGregor found early success before being handed a lesson, Pompey were on the verge of being steamrolled before getting off the canvas to let their punches fly.

The Blues started under the cosh against a side displaying all the signifiers of an outfit destined for a successful season.

Wigan attacked with a fluency, pace and energy the visitors simply couldn’t contend with. It took eight minutes for them to open the scoring, by half-time it’s no exaggeration to say Kenny Jackett’s side could have been five down.

The fact they weren’t was down to a mixture of no little good fortune and a goalkeeper in inspired form.

Ivan Toney, Nick Powell and Lee Evans were all denied - some of them multiple times. And it was the woodwork which came to Pompey’s aid on a hat-trick of occasions.

Powell, Toney and Terrell Thomas were the players frustrated, with Latics fans unable to remember the last time they suffered such misfortune.

Cook’s attacking quartet were the crux of their dominance with Jackett’s men unlikely to face such a testing challenge again in league action this term.

As much as Wigan impressed with their cutting edge, so did McGee’s will to deny the Latics single-handedly. It was as good a performance as Blues fans have seen from their keeper for years.

You’re arguably going back to the days of David James between the sticks for the last time a No1 had repeatedly come to Pompey’s rescue.

The bulk of that work came in the first 45 minutes, but there was still time to deny the troublesome Michael Jacobs five minutes after the restart.

Meanwhile, Gavin Massey was showcasing to the 2,000 or travelling Pompey fans exactly what they’re missing. Cook had the former Leyton Orient man earmarked as a summer Fratton arrival before taking him to his new home after his May departure.

Massey’s trickery constantly tormented and opened up the Blues defence as they rode their luck repelling him.

Pompey had Cheyenne Dunkley to thank, though, for offering them a lifeline 14 minutes after the restart.

The defender’s wild swing at skipper Brett Pitman in the shadow of the away fans brought its inevitable conclusion, with referee Robert Jones afforded only one option. The red card followed.

Being a man light failed to change the game’s dynamic, however, and crucially Cook chose to continue pressing relentlessly forward in search of killing the affair. The decision proved a crucial factor in Chaplin being afforded the space to make his clinical intervention two minutes after his introduction.

It was Ben Close seeing action which also saw his team find a foothold, as his ability to see a forward pass proved effective.

Brandon Haunstrup was having a testing afternoon containing Massey, but stepped forward to flight the most delicious of 76th-minute swerving, flighted balls into Wigan’s box.

Chaplin was ready to pounce as he opted for placement over power with a header back across Christian Walton. The result was time standing still as his nod drifted into the net sparking delirious scenes.

The goal ended an 18-match drought for the marksman. Too long for an arch-poacher of his quality. His spectacular effort at Barnet in February, as a second-half sub, was the striker’s last senior goal.

Chaplin, however, with some justification, will point to the fact just three starts have arrived in that time as a crucial contributory factor to the stat.

It’s been billed as a big season for the Academy product, but Saturday was the fifth game on the bounce he has been introduced from the bench. That’s far too similar to the kind of run which tested his resolve under Cook last term.

His message to both former and present manager has to now be the start of a run of goals. And to do that Chaplin needs minutes on the pitch.

The Worthing lad has already given his fans plenty of joy in his young career. But none of his 21 senior goals would have delighted his support more than earning an unlikely point against their former manager.

The sight of the man in the home technical area drew the inevitable response from the away end from the game’s outset. Three months on from his departure after delivering title glory emotions are still raw.

It appears toy snakes are the latest must-have apparel for Pompey fans, as plenty aimed their jibe at Cook through their reptilian accessories.

He took the time to congratulate every single one of his former players after his new employers were denied victory.

There was to be no acknowledgement of the fans who so recently were celebrating with him through promotion and that unlikely title win, though. That was perhaps understandable after facing their flak, but it was a decision to draw boos nonetheless.

After taking his team’s 100-per-cent league record, Pompey fans weren’t dwelling on the moment.

The reunion with the man who’d said he’d never leave their club began with a modicum of trepidation.

Eleven years on, it ended with a heartening return to the venue where we partied at the completion of the Great Escape.