Cooper: We must be wary of the drop

Shaun Cooper made a return to the Pompey starting XI for the visit of Southend on Tuesday night, playing in the centre of midfield Picture: Joe Pepler
Shaun Cooper made a return to the Pompey starting XI for the visit of Southend on Tuesday night, playing in the centre of midfield Picture: Joe Pepler

Shaun Cooper admits Pompey are starting to look over their collective shoulders as the prospect of a relegation scrap to stay in League Two becomes increasingly possible.

The Blues are currently in 18th place but have seen the gap between themselves and the drop zone narrow to just five points ahead of tomorrow’s long haul to Hartlepool.

And with confidence at a low ebb after the sacking of manager Guy Whittingham, the 30-year-old knows Pompey need to end the run of three straight League Two defeats.

Cooper said: ‘I don’t even want to think about dropping into the relegation zone just yet.

‘But the longer this run goes on, there is always that risk. So we have to do everything we can to do things right and make sure we don’t find ourselves in trouble.

‘I honestly think we have got good players and we shouldn’t be in this position – that’s not arrogance.

‘But we know full well we have to work to get the best out of ourselves and prove that we are good enough to not be sucked into trouble down there.

‘If we don’t do it right and we don’t work hard enough, we will drop into trouble.

‘So it’s down to us to apply ourselves properly under Andy Awford and when the new manager comes in.’

Caretaker-boss Awford has already indicated where his priorities will lie, with Pompey having conceded 30 goals in 17 games – the joint-highest total in the division.

As a central defender with more than 300 appearances behind him in a Pompey playing career that also saw him capped 10 times at England under-21 level, the 41-year-old has promised the players will get fed-up with his work on the team’s defending during his tenure.

But Cooper – who impressed in a central midfield role in midweek – has welcomed the news as the Blues bid to stem the worrying flow of soft goals that have been conceded.

The former Bournemouth man said: ‘Working on our defending will give us a stronger platform to build from in games.

‘Keeping clean sheets more than we have been will give everyone a lift and you can stay in games for longer. I think we’re going the right way about it.

‘For me, it’s the obvious thing to do and sensible because of the goals we’ve been conceding.

‘I know it takes time. Relationships need to be built up between players and, quite often, we haven’t been able to do that because there have been changes.

‘But we have had enough time to learn who likes to play in certain ways now. In my opinion, you can never work on it enough.’

Cooper also believes that the players owe a debt of gratitude to their former boss and is determined to prove that he was right to assemble this squad.

‘My personal opinion is that we owe it to Guy as a squad to get things back on track and get the team up the league because he was good with us and he was fair with all of us,’ said Cooper.

‘He brought us all in and gave these lads the opportunity to play at a club like Portsmouth. I thank him for that and as players, we have to accept some responsibility over what’s happened.’