Not quite for keeps – the week Whittingham got ruthless

In the wake of the York defeat, Pompey keeper John Sullivan and Blues legend Alan Knight have found themselves sidelined. Picture: Paul Jacobs (131957-4)
In the wake of the York defeat, Pompey keeper John Sullivan and Blues legend Alan Knight have found themselves sidelined. Picture: Paul Jacobs (131957-4)

At 4.13pm in the setting of Bootham Crescent the chain of events were set in motion which would spark a ruthless Pompey overhaul.

John Sullivan had already pushed one powerful drive from distance over the bar, while from the resulting short corner he brilliantly finger-tipped another effort past his post.

Cue warm applause and a nod of appreciation from the 1,357 travelling supporters situated on the uncovered terracing at the opposite end of York’s ground.

Then it arrived.

Josh Carson – how that surname would emerge again this week with delicious irony – swung in a second successive corner from the right and up went Sullivan’s arms.

A comfortable take, except the ball inexplicably squirmed from his grasp, escaped his desperate lunge and was prodded home at close range by grateful recipient Lewis Montrose.

That one error would herald the arrival of three new Pompey players in Trevor Carson, Gavin Mahon and Therry Racon and contribute towards Alan Knight’s departure from his role as goalkeeping coach.

As for Sullivan, it remains to be seen the impact that moment has on his long-term Pompey future, although there is certainly still enough time for him to bounce back.

In the meantime he finds himself on the sidelines only nine league games into his Fratton Park career, just like Phil Smith who he had been vying with at the start.

The excellent work against Fleetwood, Sullivan’s finest match to date, undone in one calamitous fumble, coupled of course with his earlier free-kick error which had handed the Minstermen the lead.

His was not the only poor performance in that disgusting team display, let’s not forget that or choose to vilify one particular character.

But it was the latest in a long line of collective errors from Blues keepers this season.

Whittingham’s patience snapped and Pompey fans and players were soon to see a different managerial side to Corporal Punishment.

After all, of 18 league goals conceded so far, it is fair to say six have been down to goalkeeping errors.

Rather generously, that does not take Cheltenham into consideration.

Whittingham laid a fascinating marker when he dropped Sullivan after the first match of the season.

Similarly, Smith was axed following his Mansfield gaffe.

A bold policy inducing a fear into each keeper they would lose their place upon a game-time mistake.

Hence Sullivan would never have featured for today’s visit of Rochdale and Smith would not reclaim the spot.

And so the audition for the new Pompey keeper began.

Within 48 hours of York, Arran Lee-Barrett – a keeper out of work since the summer following spells at Ipswich and Hartlepool – appeared.

By Tuesday afternoon he had departed.

Then there was Andy Marshall, the 38-year-old who was booked into a Southsea hotel in anticipation of his arrival for Pompey training on Thursday.

He has been without a club since leaving Aston Villa in the summer and is without a first-team match since April 2009.

But Carson’s emergence ended that interest.

Spurs’ Jordan Archer had been considered, the 19-year-old having spent 29 games on loan at Wycombe last season.

Knight had even travelled to Chesterfield on Tuesday night to watch a potential goalkeeping recruit representing Notts County in a reserve-team match.

He returned empty-handed having seen the player concerned drop a routine catch which resulted in a goal, all too familiar to Pompey fans.

Gosport keeper Nathan Ashmore was not considered, despite regularly training with Pompey since mid-July.

Recently he lost his place in the Borough side following a dip in form and Gareth Barfoot has instead been selected for the past two matches before today.

Another no-go was former Blues keeper Jamie Ashdown, presently sidelined at Leeds for 10 weeks with an injury.

The Blues have also eyed Stephen Henderson, long out-of-favour at West Ham.

But affording a sizeable enough contribution towards his five-figure weekly wages was a problem.

Besides, on Thursday he was signed on loan by Bournemouth.

Alex Cisak was spoken to in the summer after Simon Eastwood’s shock move to Blackburn but wanted more money and a higher division – he is currently at Championship leaders Burnley.

So Carson it is then, on a 93-day emergency loan from Bury.

But Whittingham wasn’t finished there with Knight moved out as goalkeeping coach under the public guise of health reasons.

The Blues legend does indeed have long-standing knee and hip problems which one day will require an operation, yet Whittingham himself later admitted the change was primarily down to a desire to go in different directions.

He also acknowledged Knight was not responsible for Sullivan’s arrival.

So at the Hilton hotel on Wednesday evening the manager delivered a shell-shocked Knight the news and by Thursday morning he was appointed in a club ambassadorial role.

The week in which Whittingham got tough to avoid a York repeat.