PORTSMOUTH boss Richie Barker revealed in his programme notes that he used to clean Nigel Worthington’s boots as a young apprentice at Sheffield Wednesday.
It was a polished finish by Michael Coulson, though, that took the shine off an Owls’ old boys reunion for the beleaguered Barker, whose fallen giants now lie just one position and three points above the League Two relegation zone.
Coulson’s spectacular, fourth-minute strike, meanwhile, earned visitors York City their fifth consecutive league victory on the road to secure a place in the club’s history books alongside Denis Smith’s 1983/84 record breakers and, perhaps more surprisingly, the 2007/08 side inherited by Colin Walker from Billy McEwan.
The 1-0 win also represented a fifth straight triumph in all contests and lifted League Two’s form team of 2014 into the play-off positions for the first time this term.
Potential season-ending injuries to two of the team’s top performers in 2013/14 - Wes Fletcher and Josh Carson – might provide a stiff challenge in terms of sustaining that top-seven place and suspected medial ligament damage for both tarnished victory over the 2008 FA Cup final winners a little.
But, despite Worthington still refusing to get prematurely excited by the possibility of a sensational second half to the season culminating in another promotion decider at Wembley, the 794 loyal supporters who made Saturday’s 560-mile round slog to the south coast can be assured of one thing – his players will give it their best possible shot.
With a back five yet to concede from open play in nine matches since being teamed together and having only shipped two goals of any kind in that time, the foundations certainly appear to be in place for a successful run-in.
Indeed, once Coulson gave City such an early lead, despite the largely, unwavering vocal support from their patient fans, Pompey were always going to find it tough to turn the tables even prior to their captain Ben Chorley’s red card for ending Fletcher’s afternoon and, perhaps, season prematurely.
Keith Lowe – a model of consistency and concentration since his November arrival from Cheltenham – was a colossus at the back for the visitors, clearing everything with his head or a boot due to his immaculate anticipation and positional sense.
Teenage left-back Ben Davies also deserves special mention for a combative and confident display in front of the biggest crowd of his fledgling career, while ex-Pompey loanee Adam Reed was excellent on his return to Fratton Park, working hard alongside skipper Russell Penn to negate the threat of the home side’s narrow, diamond-shaped midfield.
In Coulson, meanwhile, City possess a rejuvenated talent whose intelligent movement in the final third of the pitch and ability to conjure up a magical, match-winning moment is marking him out as a man to watch in League Two.
The 25-year-old attacker’s fourth goal of the season was definitely the strike of a player full of the kind of self-belief that looked to have deserted him earlier in the campaign.
Or, maybe, as Worthington honestly acknowledged at the weekend, it had been overlooked and undermined a little by his manager.
Allowing a left-wing throw-in from Ben Davies to travel over his shoulder, Coulson swivelled on the corner of the home side’s 18-yard box and, when the ball bounced invitingly up off the turf, rifled a perfectly-timed effort into Trevor Carson’s bottom left-hand corner.
It was the latest in a line of recent examples of how dedicated training ground work can bear fruit come match day.
City’s jubilant supporters were almost celebrating a second goal four minutes later when John McCombe’s far-post volley from a corner was parried away by Carson.
Their Pompey counterparts admirably continued to get behind their team at a famous stadium that the likes of Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Sol Campbell all called home just five years ago.
At least, in 19-year-old prodigy Jed Wallace, they boast a player worthy of their support and with enough ability to perhaps stave off the unthinkable specter of non-League football in coming weeks.
Wallace provided the only genuine attacking menace for a home team, whose front two of Jake Jervis and Ryan Taylor lacked any kind of cutting edge.
On 16 minutes, the teenager ghosted past Penn and Lanre Oyebanjo on the left flank before delivering a cross to the far post that Taylor could only head tamely into Nick Pope’s hands.
He then scuffed an eight-yard chance wide before calling Pope into action again, low to his left, following an edge-of-the-box attempt.
The final effort of the half, meanwhile, saw Jack Whatmough hoof well over from 25 yards after the home fans demanded he shot at goal in time added-on for Josh Carson’s earlier injury.
After the break, Wallace had another firm drive saved just 16 seconds into the restart and Bondz N’Gala headed over from the subsequent corner.
An off-balance Taylor also lifted a six-yard chance over and Jervis’ improvised back-heel lacked the power to trouble Pope before Chorley received his marching orders on 50 minutes.
The former Leyton Orient centre back cynically hacked down Carson’s replacement Fletcher as he looked to burst down the right wing.
After Chorley was then given a stern lecture by referee Roger East, both players were heading for the dressing room – a limping Fletcher with harsh abuse ringing in his ears from baying home fans as City physio Jeff Miller helped him negotiate three sides of the ground.
Pope was once more equal to another Wallace shot from distance shortly afterwards and plucked an ambitious overhead kick from N’Gala out of the air which proved Pompey’s last goal attempt just past the hour mark.
The Minstermen should have gone on to enjoy a bigger winning margin but an unmarked Ryan Jarvis, on for Fletcher, headed wide from four yards after being picked out by Will Hayhurst from a right-wing free kick.
Coulson’s curling shot, after cutting in from the left flank, also forced Carson into a decent save before Ryan Bowman offered up another incredible entry for miss of the season – a fortnight after his six-yard, open-goal gaffe at AFC Wimbledon.
On this occasion, Jarvis released a rampaging Davies through the left channel and, with home defenders frightened to make a challenge in the penalty box, the on-loan Preston full back squared the ball to Bowman.
But, with a gaping goal in front of him six yards out, Bowman missed his kick and then held his head in anguish.
Fortunately, for the former Hereford forward who, aside from two clinically-converted penalties, has now failed to score in open play during his last 15-and-a-half hours of football, his profligacy, just as at Kingsmeadow two weeks earlier, did not prove costly.
After Jarvis slipped taking a free kick that was also greeted with howls of derision by the Fratton faithful, Bowman went on to have two more opportunities to make amends, seeing an edge-of-the-box effort deflected wide and a header saved.
Much to his relief, though, the final whistle saw City become the fourth club to complete the double over the 2009 Europa League contestants this season following on from Fleetwood, Scunthorpe and Southend.
Nick Pope: Equal to all of the home side’s shots on goal and dealt with balls into his box. 7
Lanre Oyebanjo: Nipped in for timely interceptions and defended reliably when called upon. 7
Keith Lowe: First to the ball in the air or on the ground and never caught out of position. 8
John McCombe: Swept up and used his strength to good effect to keep home side at bay. 7
Ben Davies: Chose the right times to join in attacks and won his physical battles. 8
Josh Carson: Injured going in for a whole-hearted challenge. Full of energy before that. 7
Russell Penn: A little reckless for yellow card but competed with great spirit. 8
Adam Reed: Good passing range and quick into tackle. Blend of graft and craft. 8
Will Hayhurst: Danger from deadball deliveries, industrious on both flanks. 7
Ryan Bowman: Competed well but lucky that an unbelievable miss went unpunished. 7
Michael Coulson: STAR MAN - a memorable goal. Still threatened when moved wide. 9
Subs: Wes Fletcher (for Carson, 35), Ryan Jarvis 7 - elusive (for Fletcher, 53).
Not used: Platt, Montrose, McGurk, Ingham, Puri.
Trevor Carson, Daniel Alefi, Jack Whatmough, Ben Chorley, Bondz N’Gala, Nicky Shorey, Jed Wallace, Rhys McCabe (Ricky Holmes, 71), Toumani Diagouraga, Jake Jervis, Ryan Taylor. Subs not used: Phil Smith, Joe Devera, Sonny Bradley, Wes Fogden, Patrick Agyemang, Michael Drennan.
Star man: Wallace – a constant menace.
Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire).
Rating: 8/10 – stayed strong in an intimidating arena for officials.
Booked: Penn 45, Coulson 72, Holmes 81, Oyebanjo 90.
Sent off: Chorley 50.
Attendance: 14,814 (794 from City).
Shots on target: Pompey 7, City 4.
Shots off target: Pompey 5, City 5.
Corners: Pompey 5, City 5.
Fouls conceded: Pompey 10, City 11.
Offsides: Pompey 1, City 1.