Tuesday night’s game between Portsmouth and Coventry at Westleigh Park was seen by many to be Pompey’s first proper test of pre-season. Until then, they had played three friendlies, all of which were against non-league sides. In these games, the results had been 1-1 against Havant & Waterlooville, 1-1 against Bognor Regis and a 2-3 win against Gosport. People tend to say that results don’t matter in pre-season, but no matter how many times they had heard it said, the Fratton Faithful were getting worried.
Newly-appointed boss, Paul Cook, named a strong starting eleven for the game against Coventry, whereas in other games he had mixed first team players with youth players from the start. The team for Tuesday was: Paul Jones; Frank van der Struijk; Paul Robinson; Matt Clarke; Enda Stevens; Nigel Atangana; Danny Hollands; Kal Naismith; Conor Chaplin; Gareth Evans; Theo Robinson. The team included four trilaists, proving that Cook is still very much open to adding to his squad.
The game was well-attended by Westleigh Park’s standards, with about 2000 fans packing in to see the action. They were not disappointed, as after four minutes Pompey skipper, Paul Robinson had a header saved by Lee Burge in the Coventry goal, only to see the ball slammed into the net by Blues’ striker, Conor Chaplin. That goal made it three goals in four days for the 18 year old. Nine minutes later, it looked to be the Sky Blues’ turn to score, but George Thomas’ goalbound volley was plucked out of the air by the diving Jones on its path into the top corner.
Pompey enjoyed much of the first half possession, being able to spray the ball around the field without Coventry being able to get a foot in, and they nearly doubled their lead after 35 minutes when Conor Chaplin again came close. This time, he picked the ball up 25 yards from goal, shimmied away from his marker and lashed an effort at goal that curled just over the bar. Throughout the first 45’, the best players on the pitch had been Chaplin and Atangana, who seemed to have more time on the ball than others and could always pick a good pass.
This trend continued when, with the half time whistle about to go, Atangana found Chaplin who played a perfect through ball between the defence for trialist right winger, Gareth Evans to run through and slot past the oncoming Burge. Unusually, Pompey made no half time changes, suggesting that this was an eleven Cook was pleased with and possibly may have seen as his first choice. Even van der Struijk survived half time, despite having another trialist right back, Ben Davies, waiting on the bench.
At the start of the second half, Coventry seemed to grow into the game and starve the Blues of the possession they had had in the first 45’. After 53 minutes, a magnificent ball over the top of Pompey’s back four was met brilliantly by George Thomas, who took one touch to kill the ball dead in front of him in the area, and another to lob it perfectly over Paul Jones. This was the first moment in the game where the spectators were able to tell which side played in League 1.
From then on, the subs started emerging from the dugouts of both teams, meaning that the flow of the match was interrupted and the game was fairly quiet for a few minutes. During that period, the Pompey subs were: Poke for Jones (76); Davies for van der Struijk (69); Webster for P. Robinson (58); Burgess for Clarke (74); Haunstrup for Stevens (74); Doyle for Atangana (69); Close for Hollands (68); Nilsen for Evans (68); Bennett for Chaplin (68); Field for Naismith (89); Stockley for T. Robinson (64).
The game was finally able able to get going again, and with about five minutes to go, Coventry got a corner. The corner was swung into the middle and metby the head of Aaron Martin who thought he’d scored until Poke superbly leaped up and tipped the ball onto the crossbar. The rebound was safely dealt with by Burgess, who calmly headed the ball behind for another corner, which came to nothing. That was the final incident of note in the game and, as the final whistle blew, the Pompey fans were extremely pleased with what they had seen and, for the moment, all worries had been forgotten.