Cook Returns to Portsmouth as Town Look to Get Back to Winning Ways
Friday, 19th Mar 2021 15:06
Town boss Paul Cook returns to his old club Portsmouth on Saturday looking for the Blues to return to winning ways after Tuesday’s disappointing 2-0 loss at Fleetwood (KO 1pm).
Cook was manager of Pompey between May 2015 and May 2017 and took them to the League Two title in 2016/17 before departing for Wigan.
The Blues boss, whose side are seventh, one place and one point off the play-offs with two games in hand on Charlton directly above them, says he looks back on his time at Fratton Park fondly.
“I loved my time at Portsmouth, I’m not going to go into it in great detail, everyone’s moved on from that now,” he said.
“Portsmouth’s an absolutely amazing club, it’s quite a unique club because the geographical situation it’s in, the island it’s set on, the fanbase that it has.
“The proudest moment for Portsmouth Football Club was probably the fans taking over and leading them to where they are today, which is a great achievement by the supporters there.
“I’m glad there’ll not be 18,000 in, that’s for sure, because I’d have 17,999 screaming at me, I think.
“I certainly wish Portsmouth well. I’ve worked with [chief executive] Mark Catlin and [chief operations officer] Tony Brown and they’re really good people. They want what’s best for Portsmouth Football Club.
“My career’s moved on, I’ve enjoyed my time at Wigan, really disappointed with how it ended because I really felt Wigan were building a team that was capable of challenging this year to get up.
“And that’s the disappointing thing. I’m now back to starting off with me club Ipswich, it’s such a proud historical club, it’s a great club and I’m so proud to be the manager.”
He admits he can’t treat the match like any other given his previous association with Portsmouth: “It can never be like that when you’ve managed Pompey, can it? Everyone will build it up to that but you see so many old friends when you go back there, [goalkeeper-coach] John Keeley, Kevin [McCormack] the kitman. I’ve got people coming over to the hotel to see me tonight.
“It always takes you back to when you were there. Obviously the sadness of leaving will always be overawed by the memories of beating Cheltenham 6-1 on that great day that we had [when they won the League Two title].”
His exit, which evidently continues to rankle to a degree with the details still disputed and not entirely clear, came shortly afterwards with contract talks not having progressed and with a takeover by current owner Michael Eisner’s Tornate group in the process of going through.
Soon after, following what he has previously called a “really difficult couple of weeks at Portsmouth”, Wigan made their interest known and he departed for the North-West.
Asked what sticks in his mind about his time at Fratton Park, Cook reflected: “Probably the disappointment that I didn’t stay to take the club forward. That would be the overriding one.
“With the greatest respect, I’m not going into the whys. I have my reasons why I left. They were due to other stuff, but other people will have a different sort of bearing on that.
“The public place is not for that. Four years on, we’ve all moved on, Portsmouth’s moved on, I’ve moved on.
“I did at the time really love my time at Portsmouth, it was never a case where I courted to go to Wigan, never a case of that.
“It was the disappointment of one or two things that happened at the end of that season that I felt were totally wrong.
“But again, it’s gone. It’s totally gone, I hold no grudge, I’m so disappointed because Portsmouth is one of the first results I look for.
“Same as Ipswich, same as Leeds, same as Wolves, these clubs will be successful, Sunderland will get back to the top flight one day soon. It’s life. Someone will do it. The disappointing thing is that I probably didn’t see it through, without a shadow of a doubt.”
Pompey appoint one-time Braintree, Lincoln and Huddersfield boss Danny Cowley as their new head coach today, with his brother Nicky once again his assistant, Cook’s successor at Fratton Park, Kenny Jackett, having departed earlier in the week.
“I had a good, strong relationship with Kenny Jackett, Kenny Jackett’s a really good man, he’s a really good football person,” Cook said. “Like everyone else, I felt Kenny would be the man to take Pompey up.
“Now it’s Danny and Nicky’s turn to have a go. And apart from tomorrow [I wish them well]. I’ve already messaged Danny.
“Danny sent me a lovely message when I got the Ipswich job. I wish other managers well, this is a tough industry today and without wishing ill on other people, it’s tough enough.
“I hope Danny and Nicky can certainly take the club up. I spoke to Mark Catlin about a Pompey-Ipswich final at Wembley. Wouldn’t that be nice for everyone? I wish Portsmouth well.”
Cook said this morning that “our team won’t be chopped and changed tomorrow”, but there may be one or two tweaks.
The Blues boss may be considering a look at David Cornell in goal with Tomas Holy having had one or two tricky moments in recent games.
Skipper Luke Chambers will continue at right-back, while Cook may consider bringing Stephen Ward back on the left with Myles Kenlock having had a tough evening at Fleetwood. Toto Nsiala and James Wilson will continue as the centre-halves.
In midfield, Cole Skuse may not be considered ready for two games in five days following his long lay-off, so Teddy Bishop could start alongside Andre Dozzell.
Out wide, Cook could stick with Alan Judge and Gwion Edwards, assuming the Welshman is over the knock he suffered at Fleetwood, while Troy Parrott seems set to continue in the number 10 role.
James Norwood seems certain to return as the lone out-and-out striker with Kayden Jackson dropping to the bench.
Also among the subs, for the first time this season, will be right-back Kane Vincent-Young making his long-awaited return from injury.
Portsmouth have doubts over striker John Marquis (ankle), defender Callum Johnson (calf) and winger Michael Jacobs (hamstring), while ex-Blues frontman Ellis Harrison (knee) and keeper Alex Bass (foot) have been ruled out.
New head coach Cowley took Friday training before his appointment - and that of his brother Nicky as his assistant - was confirmed later in the day.
“This is a club with unbelievable tradition, so the board didn’t need to sell it to us. We’re proud and privileged to be here,” he told the Pompey club site.
“Hopefully they saw two hard-working people who love the game and we’re delighted to be at Pompey.
“We always have the ambition of leaving a club in a better position than we found it. We’ll be doing everything in order to achieve that here.”
Tenth-placed Pompey go into Saturday’s match in woeful form having lost their last four in League One, most recently Tuesday’s 1-0 loss at Peterborough. That followed last weekend’s on-penalties Papa John’s Trophy final defeat to Salford, following a 0-0 draw.
In all competitions they are without a win in six and have won just once in nine. At home they are without a win in their last three and have won one in their last seven. They are without a goal in their last three, including the Salford final.
Historically, the Blues have won 19 games between the two clubs (18 in the league, one in the League Cup), 12 have been draws (11 in the league) and Pompey have won 15 (11 in the league).
Town are without a win in their last five against Pompey, losing the last four. Town last won at Fratton Park in February 2012 when Paul Jewell’s side recorded a 1-0 win with Michael Chopra netting the goal.
In December, 2,000 Town fans made a disappointing return to Portman Road as two first-half Ryan Williams goals saw Portsmouth to a comfortable 2-0 victory over the Blues.
Williams, who hadn’t scored previously this season, gave his side the lead on 29 and added the second a minute before the break and Pompey could well have extended their lead in a second half in which they struck the woodwork twice.
The teams also met at Portman Road in the FA Cup first round the previous month when Sean Raggett scored a controversial 111th minute winner for Portsmouth in a 3-2 after-extra-time victory.
Pompey scored two goals in two minutes via Ronan Curtis and Tom Naylor in the 11th and 13th minutes before Jon Nolan pulled a goal back for the Blues two minutes before half-time,
Then, after Town had been denied a clear penalty for a foul on ex-Pompey frontman Oli Hawkins, sub Norwood made it 2-2 on 66 before Raggett won it for the visitors in the second half of extra-time when he stabbed home from close range following a free-kick but having very evidently strayed offside.
Last season at Fratton Park, Portsmouth beat the Blues 1-0, while the Portman Road fixture didn’t take place due to the campaign being curtailed.
Curtis’s second-half goal was enough to see Pompey to their victory over 10-man Town. The Irish international found the net from 20 yards five minutes after the break and the Blues were unable to find an equaliser before captain Chambers was red-carded for a second bookable offence with two minutes remaining.
In addition to Cook, new Blues first-team coach Gary Roberts was with Pompey as a player under the current Town manager between June 2015 and August 2017 making 64 starts and 16 sub appearances, scoring 20 goals.
Portsmouth striker Harrison left the Blues for Fratton Park in June 2019 after a year at Town, in which the former Bristol Rovers man scored once in nine starts and seven sub appearances, for a fee of £450,000.
Blues frontman Hawkins joined Town on a free transfer last summer having left Pompey after three years after scoring 18 goals in 71 starts and 25 sub appearances.
Saturday’s referee is Alan Young from Cambridgeshire, who has shown 105 yellow and two red cards in 25 games so far this season.
Young has only refereed one previous competitive Town first-team game but it was a memorable one from an officiating angle - the 0-0 home draw with Wycombe Wanderers in November 2019.
Just before half-time, a Chambers header was diverted into his own net by Chairboys midfielder Curtis Thompson but Young wrongly disallowed it for offside having consulted linesman Aaron Farmer with the players already lined-up for the restart.
In the second half, Blues keeper Holy stopped a Joe Jacobson penalty after Chambers had fouled David Wheeler with the offence appearing to have taken place outside the area.
Earlier, Town had had penalty claim of their own turned down when Jon Nolan’s shot had struck Jacobson on the hand.
Young was also busy with his cards that evening with Nolan, Jackson, Janoi Donacien, Luke Woolfenden, Luke Garbutt and six visiting players all booked.
Prior to that Young was in charge of Town’s 2-0 July 2012 friendly victory at Cambridge United and the 1-0 U21 Premier Cup defeat to Southampton at Portman Road in November 2014.
Squad from: Holy, Cornell, Chambers (c), Matheson, Vincent-Young, Kenlock, Ward, Wilson, Nsiala, McGuinness, Woolfenden, Dozzell, Skuse, Huws, Judge, Harrop, Bishop, Edwards, Lankester, Bennetts, Thomas, Sears, Parrott, Norwood, Jackson, Drinan.
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