PORTSMOUTH manager Michael Appleton paid tribute to hometown hero Joel Ward after he rescued his side a 1-1 draw against Southampton at Fratton Park yesterday.
After a dire first half, Southampton were the better of the two Hampshire teams and took charge after 63 minutes.
Daniel Fox launched a superb free-kick deep into the Portsmouth penalty area and Rickie Lambert rose highest to head Saints in front.
The Championship leaders appeared in control and looked set to keep Pompey at bay.
However, Nigel Adkins’ team failed to clear their lines from a David Norris corner after 84 minutes and Ward saved the day for Pompey with a soaring header.
Ward was the last man off the field as he soaked up the applause and Appleton was delighted for the Portsmouth-born utility player.
The manager said: “Growing up as a Portsmouth lad and fan, he has probably dreamt about doing that for a while. Joel can probably appreciate the importance of that goal more than the rest of the players. You could tell that with his celebration.
“I gave him a bit of stick because he was lording it up after the game and taking all the applause. We were waiting for him for about 10 minutes in the dressing room.
“He has popped up with a couple of goals recently, which is fantastic for him. He looks like he has a new lease of life about him.”
While Appleton enjoyed his first south coast derby, he is relieved to see the back of Saints until the return fixture at St Mary’s in April.
He said: “It will be nice not to mention the word ‘Southampton’ for a couple of months and just focus on climbing up the league and getting on with the rest of the season. These games get built up that much that the players forget to play at times. There weren’t enough people prepared to put their foot on the ball and show a bit of composure.”
Meanwhile, Adkins is pleased to see his side go into the Christmas period with a one-point advantage at the top of the Championship. He admits he would have taken a top 10 place at this stage of the season.
Adkins said: “There are 10 or 15 teams with aspirations of getting into the Premier League. I just wanted to be in with a shout and be in the top 10. We would have been happy with that.
“We’ve got the January period when there will be a lot of speculation and transfer rumours. It’s then just a case of giving ourselves a chance to win the race and get promoted. We’ve led that race for over three months now. That shows we have a consistency about our play and we have good players.”