Plymouth 1 Pompey 2

Gary Roberts seals the points for Pompey with his second-half penalty Picture: Joe Pepler PPP-150815-170441006
Gary Roberts seals the points for Pompey with his second-half penalty Picture: Joe Pepler PPP-150815-170441006
4
Have your say

The honeymoon continues for the manager whose touch remains gloriously golden.

There was the opening day canter against Dagenham & Redbridge, then the eye-catching Capital One Cup elimination of Derby County.

Now Paul Cook has instigated an away success, an achievement no Blues follower will underestimate.

A return of three victories in eight days with six different scorers has ensured the pre-season optimism engulfing Pompey is undiminished.

Throw in an undefeated summer friendly schedule for the first-team and Cook’s Fratton Park introduction has been largely faultless.

Albeit early, early days, of course.

Still, the latest encouraging development occurred at a Home Park venue which has been the setting for troubled times in recent years.

From the Capital One Cup Academy squad outing in August 2012, to the Yassin Moutaouakil mistake in October 2013.

Unquestionably trumping them all was the abject and demoralising visit to Plymouth Argyle last season, sporting a curious central midfield combination of Nick Awford and Jack Whatmough.

That televised 3-0 loss was one of the lowest points in an Andy Awford season which would plumb uncharted Pompey depths.

Yet on Saturday, last season’s play-off qualifiers would themselves taste defeat as Cook’s troops marched onwards in a 2-1 success.

A scoreline which suggests the teams were closely matched in combat, yet in truth the visitors’ pursuit of victory was comfortable.

Granted, Gregg Wylde’s 89th-minute consolation sparked a needlessly nervy five minutes of time added on. Nonetheless few present would have denied the Blues were worthy Home Park winners.

Only the permanently-beleagured Blackpool possessed a worse league away record outside the Premier League last season as Pompey collected a mere three triumphs.

Cook is already off the mark at the first time of asking. In addition, at a venue few sides will escape with three points from as the League Two campaign unfolds.

Instant success then for the re-jigged travelling schedule which involved leaving on Thursday evening, training at Torquay on Friday afternoon and spending two nights in Plymouth’s Jurys Inn.

In the build-up, Pompey’s boss was adamant preparation could not be questioned should his players fail to perform their duties satisfactorily.

He needed not to have feared as the visitors once again impressed with a thoroughly controlled and effective display.

The outcome was the first time they have won the opening three matches of a campaign since the 1988-89 season under Alan Ball.

For the trip to Devon, Cook opted to retain the same 18-man squad which defeated the Daggers in the league curtain raiser the previous Saturday.

None of the seven players brought in to face Derby in the week managed to retain their starting spots, irrespective of the 2-1 success over the much-fancied Championship outfit.

It meant Paul Jones, Adam Webster, Adam McGurk, Jayden Stockley, Danny Hollands and Brandon Haunstrup all returned to the bench.

Meanwhile, no start again for the matchwinner against the Rams, Conor Chaplin, as he completed the seven substitutes.

Instead Pompey’s starting XI were unchanged from their previous League Two fixture and they certainly picked up where they left off at Fratton Park against the Daggers.

Cook’s side dominated possession, dictated play and, in Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess, possess a central-defensive partnership beginning to blossom.

Clarke, in particular, has given the early indications of an excellent loan recruit, a market the Blues failed to effectively utilise last season with a procession of sub-standard arrivals.

Despite his 18 years of age, the Ipswich youngster is a tough and uncompromising competitor who shone brightest against the Pilgrims, while the outstanding performer against Derby – Webster – occupied the bench.

The duo at the heart of the defence also snuffed out the constant goal threat of Reuben Reid, a player eternally linked with a switch to Pompey.

Yet it was once again the Blues’ pressing game and their ability to be comfortable on the ball which heralded that third victory of this promising campaign.

On Saturday their composure from the penalty spot would also prove crucial as Matt Tubbs and Gary Roberts sealed the success.

Pompey could have been ahead in the opening two minutes when the ball managed to divert off Tubbs and into the path of Gareth Evans, surging down the middle.

The midfielder’s left-foot shot was blocked by Luke McCormick, while his follow-up attempt was thwarted by the legs of Curtis Nelson as a golden chance went begging.

With the visitors dictating play, Ben Davies had a low shot saved at the near post, while Tubbs produced an air kick in a promising position after Burgess had headed down Roberts’ free-kick.

The Pilgrims began to get back into the match and Brian Murphy had to tip the impressive Graham Carey’s shot over the crossbar, with a Kelvin Mellor attempt also going close.

However, in first-half stoppage time, Enda Stevens blocked Hiram Boateng’s attempted clearance and the midfielder subsequently brought down the Pompey man inside the box.

Tubbs did the rest from the spot, recording his first goal of the campaign in his second appearance.

For large parts of the second half, the visitors retained possession with Adams’ side unable to grasp hold of the ball to instigate any threatening moments.

Carl McHugh did glance a Carey corner narrowly wide of the far post, but at the other end Tubbs hit the side netting and Kyle Bennett sent a long-range drive adrift.

Then, in the 86th minute, Roberts kept Bennett’s long pass in play down the right, cut inside the box and was fouled by left-back Gary Sawyer.

With Tubbs having been substituted earlier, the midfielder finished off the penalty with a finish into the bottom corner to make it 2-0.

There was late, late drama when Wylde smartly volleyed home in the 89th minute, leaving Pompey to contend with five minutes of time added on.

But Cook’s side held on with some resolute defending to ensure the season’s start remains quite perfect.