Pompey 1 Bury 0

Joe Devera puts his body on the line for Pompey. Picture: Barry Zee
Joe Devera puts his body on the line for Pompey. Picture: Barry Zee

Guy Whittingham tried to maintain a straight face, really he did.

‘I thought we dominated from start to finish to tell the truth,’ came his delivery to the assembled media post-match.

Then a smile barged its way through, shortly accompanied by laughter all round.

Whittingham could afford to joke, his team had scrambled a 1-0 victory on home turf which was anything but comfortable.

No use pretending otherwise, it was a struggle, an often dour joyless spectacle during which Pompey clung on with every last ounce of energy.

At times the defending within their penalty area was frantic, desperate challenges and bodies hurtling through the air amid chaotic scenes.

On one occasion in the second half, a goalmouth melee saw one Blues shirt tumble to the ground and almost smother the ball as if it were a bomb primed to explode.

Identifying that gallant hero was an impossible ask considering the amount of kicking legs and jostling figures blocking the eye line from the South stand.

Turns out it was Joe Devera, pictured right.

Regardless, the second 45 minutes were agonising to watch for the majority of those gathered inside Fratton Park, while Bury caretaker boss Ronnie Jepson grew redder and redder in frustration.

Yet Pompey won.

Hardly textbook and definitely a fixture which will quickly be forgotten about – but Whittingham’s men had their victory.

The Blues boss has recently talked about redefining the balance between attacking and becoming more resolute at the back for his team.

He has been preaching about his side becoming harder to beat and less cavalier when on the ball, displaying an improved defensive nod of acknowledgment.

In that case, on Saturday matters went perfectly according to plan and showed gradually Whittingham is beginning to shape his team and their progress.

That’s three wins and a draw now since the abject York defeat prompted the Pompey manager to get ruthless both within the squad and also his coaching staff.

During that period just two goals have been conceded – and against Bury the impressive Trevor Carson didn’t even feature.

Instead newly-appointed player/goalkeeping coach Phil Smith earned a first start since the trip to Mansfield in August, responding with a clean sheet.

Whittingham talked about getting a reaction after Bootham Crescent.

He has certainly got it as the Blues steady begin to ascend the table towards the top half where the quality of the squad rightfully belongs.

Defeat to a struggling Bury who sacked Kevin Blackwell earlier in the week would have been a disaster, particularly with the fixture taking place at Fratton.

Thankfully Bondz N’Gala netted in only the fourth minute to ensure the hosts sat in the front seat.

And it was an advantage they maintained right the way until the end of four minutes of time added on.

Yet there were plenty of scares along the way and very little to excite at the other end as Whittingham’s men ground it out under some intense pressure.

Credit then to that defence and a back four unchanged since Plymouth, even if the goalkeeper did have to be altered due to Carson being unable to face his parent club.

N’Gala, Yassin Moutaouakil, Sonny Bradley and Devera were brave, full of heart and dug deep to ensure Smith had little to actually deal with.

Granted, they were edgy and fragmented at times but they had spirit and fighting qualities which deservedly brought a second consecutive clean sheet at Fratton.

Too many times this season basic defensive errors have applied the handbrake to the Blues.

On Saturday, however, all four of them were immense and, ultimately, earned the victory.

In front of them Johnny Ertl revelled in the scrap, the occasion called for his particular strengths and how he employed them so effectively.

Inevitably it was his torso soaring through the air which was regularly struck by shots as the Shakers attempted to force a breakthrough.

His tackling was just as crucial, while his energy and drive gave priceless cover in defensive situations to keep Jepson’s side at bay.

Ertl is no midfield playmaker, that’s Thery Racon and Simon Ferry’s job.

But when a fight is required he rises to the challenge magnificently and with lip-smacking relish.

Still, it was N’Gala who would grab the decisive goal as the corner routine with Ricky Holmes was productive once more.

Jed Wallace had won the flag kick with a fantastic charge down the right flank which forced Nathan Cameron to hack the ball behind.

Up stepped Holmes to deliver the corner from the right and N’Gala was allowed space to steer a header into the far corner of the goal.

Pompey’s previous match on home soil saw the pair combine to net twice against Rochdale – and they repeated the trick to put Bury on the road to defeat.

It capped a scintillating start from Whittingham’s men, although curiously they petered out once the goal was registered, spending the remainder of the match struggling to keep possession.

Once debutant Danny Hylton found his feet for the Shakers, he proved to be a real handful and had appeals for a penalty waved away in the first half by referee Carl Berry.

N’Gala was later booked for scything down the former Aldershot striker in front of the dug outs, prompting a furious reaction from Jepson.

In the second half the visitors dominated, although rarely managed to trouble Smith, whose handling on his return was faultless.

In the 55th minute he pulled off a stunning stop to thwart Shaun Harrad, pushing his goal-bound header low down around the left-hand post.

Substitute Anton Forrester also dragged an attempt well wide when he should have done better as they kept banging on the door.

Yet Pompey came close to doubling their advantage in the 89th minute when Wallace shot against the right-hand post after excellent work from Holmes.

In was a rare attack from the hosts and would have been truly harsh on the Shakers. As it was, the result was injustice enough.

Not that Pompey fans should be concerned – opponents Mansfield, Cheltenham and Accrington got out of jail earlier this season.

And at the end of it, Whittingham could afford a laugh and a joke.