Ashdown's clanger piles pain on stricken Pompey

Coventry City 2 Portsmouth 0: Goalkeeper signed on special dispensation lets opening goal slip through legs
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The Independent Football

After their victory in the High Court, Portsmouth's experience on the pitch as they began life in the Champion-ship was rather less uplifting; they were beaten by a side rated by the bookmakers at 5-1 to go down, and a little too comfortably for the liking of the 2,000 or so loyalists who had made the journey to the Midlands.

A sloppy goal in the fourth minute, followed by a thumping header 20 minutes from the end, were enough to leave those supporters contemplating a long and difficult road ahead. Seeing off the taxman is only the start.

Not short of quality if low on numbers – Pompey could muster only four bodies on the substitutes' bench – the players Steve Cotterill sent out for his first competitive match enjoyed respectable periods of possession but did not threaten Coventry's goalkeeper, Keiren Westwood, until their captain, Marc Wilson, hit a post with a 25-yard free-kick in the second minute of stoppage time.

With only teenagers on the bench, Cotterill was limited in what he could do to alter the course of the game and when Freddy Eastwood, who had scuffed the first goal through the legs of Jamie Ashdown, thumped home the second at the far post from a cross by David Bell, spirits sagged. The problem for Cotterill is that until the Football League lift their transfer embargo, which is subject to the prospective owner, Balram Chainrai, meeting the terms of the club's company voluntary agreement, he cannot strengthen his squad except through loans and free transfers.

There is the possibility, moreover, that more players may move on. Kevin-Prince Boateng did not play yesterday, pending a move to Serie A, and the striker John Utaka is said to be a target for Blackburn Rovers, with a number of other Premier League clubs interested. "The trouble is that I can sign players on loan but there is a limit of five and I can only play four of them at one time," Cotterill said.

"I'd like to sign players on frees but most of them have already been snapped up. If you can come up with someone give me a ring, because the team we had out today was absolutely the best we have got. I'd be amazed if we can get up to 18 players in the squad this season without taking on players who are unknown or untried."

Cotterill had re-signed Ashdown under a special dispensation granted by the League, without which he would have been missing a senior goalkeeper. He must have been convinced that fate was against him when Ashdown allowed Eastwood's hopeful prod to squirm past him.

Coventry were decidedly average. Indeed, in the first half in particular, with Michael Brown and Richard Hughes dominating a midfield in which Wilson performed a sterling role just in front of the back four, their opponents' Premier League pedigree set them apart.

But they failed to make it count and Coventry, once their new manager, Aidy Boothroyd, had put them right on one or two shortcomings, emerged in the second half with greater urgency and better cohesion, and once Ports-mouth began to stretch themselves in seeking the equaliser, a second goal was not difficult to foresee.

Given that he had five new signings on the field, Boothroyd was quite satisfied with his winning start. "I'm more concerned with my own players but despite the situation they are in, Portsmouth still had some fabulous players on the field. But we had worked hard to highlight their weaknesses and stop their strengths.

"The new and old players gelled together pretty well for a first game. I'm delighted for Freddy. He is a loveable rogue but he has worked his socks off and deserved his two goals."

Boothroyd laughed at a suggestion apparently emanating from the Leeds chairman, Ken Bates, that he was looking to quit the Ricoh Arena less than three months after taking charge. "I've only just got here!" he said.

"I've been made welcome by everybody, and I couldn't be happier. I don't know where that idea has come from. The wine in Monte Carlo must be fabulous."