Portsmouth 2 Morecambe 0: Neil Allen's verdict - Danny Cowley in no mood to ditch hard-earned managerial honour as Blues' remarkable run continues
Paul Cook’s bags had long been packed in preparation for Wigan, a calculated departure which could hardly be perceived as off the hoof.
Yet there was one particular item purposely chosen not to accompany him on his journey to the DW Stadium.
When Kenny Jackett was unveiled at Pompey’s training ground as the Blues new manager in June 2017, the discarded Sky Bet League Two April Manager Of The Month award surveyed proceedings from the back of the room.
Cook had earned the accolade in recognition of five wins out of six during a month which clinched promotion at Notts County.
It was hardly a curse, either. The following match, Pompey ruthlessly destroyed Cheltenham 6-1 on the final day of the season to claim the League Two title in dramatic circumstances.
Weeks later, Cook had walked out of Fratton Park, leaving behind a fractured relationship with the Blues followers unlikely to ever heal – and his well-deserved April manager of the month accolade.
It would be another four-and-a-half years before a Pompey boss next claimed such an honour, a time lag perhaps a little perplexing considering the club have consistently won matches and challenged for promotion during that period.
Nonetheless, on Friday, Cowley’s magnificent November was recognised with the Sky Bet League One Manager Of The Month.
The head coach’s Pompey career had plummeted to its lowest depths in October, Cowley portraying an increasingly-exasperated figure flailing and unable to drag the best out of his playing squad.
The 4-0 home hammering at the hands of Cook’s Ipswich signified a remarkable turning point. The Blues have not lost in the league since.
Certainly the career progression of both managers in the aftermath of that bleak Fratton Park evening have been wildly diverging.
Cook is now out of work following his sacking last weekend, while Cowley is nine League One matches unbeaten, eighth in the table, and has won eight of the subsequent 12 games in all competitions.
He’s also deservedly the Sky Bet Manager Of The Month, following 13 points from a possible 15 in November.
Any deep-seated suspicions that Morecambe would wreck Cowley’s party were, ultimately, misguided. Stephen Robinson’s side didn’t remotely suggest they could inflict a first league defeat since Ipswich.
Granted, the Blues were not at their best against the strugglers, putting in a display which was lethargic in parts, coupled with a below-par second half.
Yet Cowley’s men remained comfortable throughout, having more than enough to overcome the Shrimps with a functional rather than inspirational Fratton Park display.
There was a brief moment when the visitors threatened to reduce the 2-0 scoreline late on, with Gavin Bazunu pulling off a stunning stop to deny Adam Phillips from long range.
The thunderous effort from outside the box was somehow pushed onto the crossbar by the Manchester City loanee, prompting Pompey’s boss to afterwards declare it one of the greatest saves he’s witnessed live.
Unquestionably it was special, nonetheless represented a mere fleeting moment of danger in a match which carried barely any threat for the Blues.
Perhaps it’s a fine reflection of Cowley’s ongoing performance as manager that his team are now so well-drilled and impeccably organised that they are able to canter to victory on such off-days.
Let’s not overlook the matter that this excellent recent run has been achieved against the backdrop of mounting illness and injury problems, robbing him of genuine squad options.
With Joe Morrell, Louis Thompson and Ryan Tunnicliffe absent, Pompey’s head coach has turned to Shaun Williams and Miguel Azeez as his central midfield pairing in the last three matches.
Such were concerns over preserving the 35-year-old Williams, he was taken off corner duties to reduce the amount of pitch distance required to travel, while Azeez completed three games in a week for the first time in his fledgling first-team career.
In the case of the Arsenal man, he is visibly growing with each performance, albeit still tending to fade late in matches, with Cowley lacking a viable alternative from the bench to intervene.
As for the back three, it contains an attacking right-back and a player the Blues boss regards as a left-back out of position, such has been the consequence of injury problems to Clark Robertson and Paul Downing.
Irrespective of such patching up, Sean Raggett, Kieron Freeman and Connor Ogilvie have contributed to four successive League One clean sheets, totalling 426 minutes without conceding.
Ogilvie, in particular, has been something of a revelation since switched to the centre of defence in the post-Ipswich era and, fittingly, grabbed his maiden Blues goal on Saturday.
That moment arrived in the 77th minute, with Azeez’s corner from the left headed home unmarked by the ex-Gillingham man, who continues to impress with battling displays brimming with heart and guts.
Curiously, that goal would also signify the first time this season the Blues have registered from a corner in the league, spanning 22 matches.
It effectively sealed the 2-0 victory, having struggled to add to Marcus Harness’ early opener, with the relief around Fratton Park palpable.
Harness’ 10th goal of the campaign arrived following an excellent team move, initiated by Ronan Curtis’ magnificent diagonal ball over the top of the Morecambe back line for George Hirst.
The striker managed to take the ball around the on-rushing keeper Kyle Letheren before driving a shot towards goal which was diverted by Scott Wootton against his own bar.
The ball fell to Azeez, just two yards out, whose follow-up attempt smacked against the far post, before his second shot was blocked by Ryan McLaughlin on the line.
But there was Harness, on hand to crash the ball right-footed into the roof of the net from the edge of the six-yard box and earn the hosts an 11th-minute breakthrough.
That’s nine goals in his last 16 appearances for the winger who has comfortably established himself as the Blues’ chief scoring threat this season, with all arriving from open play.
Somewhat bafflingly, Harness wasn’t nominated for Sky Bet’s November Player of the Month, despite netting in four successive matches, three of which were in League One competition.
Still, for the first time since April 2017, the Blues can boast a manager of the month – and Cowley is showing no signs of willingly relinquishing that trophy.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
You can support our local team of expert Pompey writers by subscribing here for all the latest news from Fratton Park for 14p a day.