Newport County 0 Pompey 1

Matt Tubbs scores the winner at Newport Picture: Joe Pepler
Matt Tubbs scores the winner at Newport Picture: Joe Pepler

There was no swagger, a lack of sparkle and a brand of football more earthy than heaven sent.

Yet it was a win, nonetheless.

A fifth league triumph on the road, three more points towards achieving promotion, flip it how you like the outcome is positive.

Granted, not Pompey’s finest hour under Paul Cook, a fact acknowledged himself, begrudging of the manner the 1-0 result was secured at Newport County.

He chose to brandish it as ‘dogged’ amid much face-pulling and shaking of the head during his post-match analysis.

The performance against League Two’s bottom club lacked fluidity and, for large swathes of the 90 minutes, hardly graced the eyes of the 3,298 people present.

Still, the match’s conclusion was victory for a side clearly with plenty more gears to find.

Such was the impressive nature of a Blues’ back line containing Adam Webster for the first time in a league fixture under Cook, County never threatened a spoiler.

Aaron McCarey, with one match of his initial loan spell remaining, barely had a ball to punch nor a corner to negotiate.

For Pompey’s manager, however, the disappointment focused on his side’s minimal creativity against their hard-working hosts.

No accusations of defending deep could be made towards this opposition, an approach the noisy Rodney Parade undoubtedly would not have stood for on home turf.

Instead, Cook’s criticisms were directed at his own team following a sluggish showing during which they struggled to click.

Testament to the Blues boss and his footballing principles that he could be dissatisfied in the face of victory and the retention of second spot in League Two.

Then again, those gathered would not have swallowed sugar-coated sound bites designed to gloss over the shortcomings they had just witnessed.

Yesterday was an effective performance from the promotion candidates, nothing more, nothing less. Classically clinical in its execution.

In fact the sole moment of magic arrived courtesy of Kyle Bennett and resulted in the only goal of the contest deep into first-half stoppage time.

The winger is a player who has drawn criticism among some of the Fratton faithful, yet his willingness to attempt to conjure up special moments is encouraging unshakable.

For every overhit pass or occasions when caught in possession, there are moments like the weekend’s decisive contribution for Matt Tubbs’ matchwinner.

With the clock showing two minutes into first-half stoppage time, Bennett picked up the ball and ran at the Exiles’ defence before threading a pass through to Tubbs lurking inside the penalty area.

The striker did the rest with a typically precise finish into the far corner of the net.

That’s five goals now for a player who initially struggled to adapt to Cook’s system, in the process now establishing himself as the club’s leading scorer.

Jayden Stockley may still be injured, but the loan arrival of Caolan Lavery will continue to provide striking competition for Tubbs as he attempts to maintain his first-team spot.

In a match of few goal-scoring opportunities for either side, it required a cool head to settle matters – and so it proved.

The closest Newport came to scoring was on the half hour mark when Lenell John-Lewis put the ball into an empty net, only for the referee to intervene.

Zak Ansah was adjudged to have pushed Christian Burgess in the build-up, sparing the embarrassment of the Blues defender whose poor header back had put his team in danger in the first place.

A key decision from referee James Adcock, who would be forced off nine minutes later through injury and replaced by fourth official Wayne Barratt.

The three minutes it took for the substitution were added on at the end of the first-half, the period which would see Tubbs net.

In turn, a half-time announcement was made for any qualified referees in the crowd to step forward to serve as fourth official – the call duly answered by a Pompey fan.

Such antics certainly helped liven up an otherwise drab occasion, in particular the home fans’ chant of ‘You’re not fit to referee’ at Adcock as he limped off.

For the Rodney Parade encounter, Cook had made two changes, with Kal Naismith replacing the suspended Gareth Evans and Webster coming in for Matt Clarke.

Naismith’s first Pompey start was expected, although the winger struggled to make too much of an impact, despite plenty of endeavour.

He was in reasonable company, however, as the Blues’ attacking force as a whole stuttered throughout the 90 minutes.

Elsewhere, Cook’s decision to leave out Clarke for Webster came as a surprise, particularly with the Ipswich loanee having been an ever-present in the previous 12 league fixtures.

Yet Cook has long talked up Webster, who turned in another assured showing last Tuesday in the reserves’ 2-1 behind-closed-doors win over Cardiff City’s development group.

The West Wittering youngster’s response was a man-of-the-match display in his first league start since May 2 when Gary Waddock was serving as caretaker boss.

Dominant in the air against the bustling John-Lewis and more comfortable on the ball than predecessor Clarke, Webster was simply magnificent alongside Christian Burgess.

In the process, the Blues kept only a third clean sheet in their previous 12 matches in all competitions, another plus point for Cook on the day-trip to Wales.

Additionally, Romy Boco and Lavery both made their debuts off the bench, with Boco in particular earning glowing praise from his manager.

Having played four matches on loan at the Hawks in the previous month, for fans it was a maiden glimpse of the versatile 30-year-old who has served Cook so faithfully at previous clubs.

Still, the match would end with a comfortable fifth league away triumph for Pompey.

The Newport encounter may not have set pulses racing, but it’s a win as the bright start to the campaign is maintained.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is the feeling there is still so much more ability to be demonstrated from what still is an evolving team.