Pompey caretaker boss senses defensive improvement

9/7/12_SPORT'The first day back for Pompey pre-season training.'Andy Awford.''Picture: Steve Reid (122332-966)
9/7/12_SPORT'The first day back for Pompey pre-season training.'Andy Awford.''Picture: Steve Reid (122332-966)

For Guy Whittingham, it was the first tangible proof Pompey are heading in the right direction under his tutelage.

A clean sheet against Preston North End last weekend represented only a third in 26 matches this season for the Blues.

Granted, the blank at the other end was disappointing, particularly when Izale McLeod spurned the latest in a mounting list of penalty chances.

Nonetheless, it was the defensive effort which filled Whittingham with plenty of cheer.

With Ricardo Rocha and Gabor Gyepes partnering each other for just the second time, the duo helped provide the most solid back-line performance during the caretaker boss’ reign.

Whittingham – along with Andy Awford and goalkeeping coach John Keeley – has been focusing on tightening up the defence since Michael Appleton left.

Encouraging then that Preston failed to score in his sixth game in charge.

And in Whittingham’s eyes it indicates Pompey are making considerable progress on that part of the game plan.

He said: ‘Defensive stability is not something that comes straight away, it really isn’t.

‘We’ve been working hard on it in training, since day one when we took on the caretaker roles.

‘You look at the six games we’ve had and it’s getting better.

‘It’s not where we want it to be just yet, you obviously want to be in a game where nobody gets a chance in the 18-yard box and then you’ve got a chance to succeed.

‘But the pleasing thing against Preston was we looked a lot more solid and lots of headers were being won from crosses in.

‘It’s important to win that first challenge in the area.

‘We looked a lot more dominant in the air than we have done in the past.

‘That’s where pre-seasons come in. You have that period in the summer where you get your defence together and work on things – and we felt we have had to do that since we came in.

‘It’s not just the back four, you have to have your keeper working well with your back four and John Keeley is very good at that.

‘He will step in and coach the goalkeeper and the back four because it’s an extension of what the goalkeeper wants you to do.

‘Andy is very good at coaching the back four and coaching the midfielders in front of them and I’m okay at coaching the midfielders and the strikers because you defend from the front.

‘You look at that defence and the last few games together and you would like to think they’re getting an understanding.’

Preston marked Rocha’s third start in his latest Pompey spell. Lubomir Michalik has made way, although did play alongside the veteran at Coventry.

And Whittingham has been impressed with Rocha’s impact.

He added: ‘Ricardo has been a great asset and also brought that competition for places we have never had before.

‘Lubo was left out a couple of weeks ago but has trained fantastically well and I can’t praise him enough for the way he has applied himself.

‘He is disappointed he has been left out and he has every right to be – but he has done really, really well for us in training.’