Proud Hartlepool United boss Craig Hignett says his players answered question marks about their character with their inspired defensive show on the south coast.
Hignett himself has been one of the harshest critics of Pools’ recent performances, questioning whether his squad had the character and fight to turn the club’s slide down the League Two table around.
But, with Hignett watching on from the stands, they produced a stoic, resolute show at Portsmouth, to secure a vital away point at Fratton Park.
And while the 0-0 draw did little for their league position, it did wonders for the mood within the camp.
Hignett said he players showed bottle to make sure they left with a share of the spoils.
“It was massive,” he said.
“I know it wasn’t about the shape we employed or the formation we used, or do this, do that – it was about desire and bottle.
“We had to show it, after the last few weeks. And we had to show it when we were pegged back and had to defend cross after cross and balls into the box.
“I wasn’t sure what we were going to get after the last two, but we got an outstanding display.
“No-one switched off for a second and we were penned in, but we stood up to them.
“Everyone put a massive shift in, from Billy (Paynter) up front who hardly got a touch second-half, to the lads at the back.
“We managed the game really well and as disappointed as I was in the last couple of weeks I was really proud of them today.
“It’s been a hard couple of weeks for everyone, but we showed spirit and what we are all about.”
Not often one to pick out individual performances, Hignett was full of praise for goalkeeper Trevor Carson, in the aftermath of the draw.
Of his keeper, he said: “Trev was outstanding. And you need performances like that when you play against the top teams.
“Trev made saves you would expect, but one of them, the volley was exceptional and that’s what he does.
“We worked hard, put bodies on the line. The players gave all we have asked for and then some. The defending was unbelievable.
“We never switched off for a second and you need to stand up to when they have good spells of possession.
“Trev was brilliant, but I could go through the whole team and say the same about them all.”
All the gaffer asked for in the run up to the game was a reaction from his players.
But that was all he requested in the days prior to the Cambridge United debacle at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium, also.
This time, though, Hignett feels he got just what he asked for.
He added: “I got a reaction in bucketloads – they showed they have got hearts and passion and they had to show it because we are against a really good side who put us under pressure.
“As the game went on I was more and more comfortable with our defending.”
Not allowing himself to get too carried away, though assessing his side in an attacking sense, he added: “I was disappointed we didn’t work their keeper mind.”