*** A PFCSWSC photographic chronicle of ALL Portsmouth FC competitive fixtures played from Seasons 2006/07 until 2015/16 ***

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Article : Pompey must deliver FA Cup for Harry

(Image by kind permission of www.portsmouthfc.co.uk)

Harry Redknapp can close in on the crowning glory of his managerial career to date this weekend and in doing so lengthen his already long chapter in the history of success at Portsmouth Football Club.

When Sol Campbell leads Pompey out at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, they will be embarking on 90 minutes or more where they simply must win because to miss out on the decider now would almost serve to betray what has gone on before.

What the former West Ham boss has done for a previously slumbering second tier club has been truly remarkable. I remember when he returned from bitter rivals Southampton to Fratton Park for a second spell when the team previously mismanaged by Alain Perrin were staring relegation in the face and hearing one Pompey fan on the TV saying something along the lines of ‘Brilliant, he’s brought us up, taken them down and now he’s going to keep us up.’

Well, buoyed probably both by that failure at Southampton and his love for Portsmouth, Redknapp did indeed keep Pompey up that year [2005-06] and has seen two hugely progressive seasons since, culminating with their current spearheading of the best of the rest in The Premier League and this FA Cup semi-final, the reward for knocking out champions Manchester United on their own turf last time out.

I do not like to talk about that spell at Southampton in relation to Redknapp as I feel it was a major blemish on his career. He accepted the job in emotional circumstances, having felt let down by those in charge of the very Pompey side he had led to the promised land. Redknapp’s heart never seemed in it at St Mary’s. Given how tight the bottom four in the top flight were that season [Two points separated West Brom, Crystal Palace, Norwich and The Saints after the final day] and how many better players Redknapp had at his disposal than Messrs Robson, Dowie and Worthington, they really should have stayed up, despite the poor position they were in when he took over.

With the even more, barely believable, dire straits Saints are in now, they will always look back at that Premier League-departing Redknapp spell with regret, though his involvement with the club is well down the list of reasons that they are where they are now – a very sick football club in danger of slipping into oblivion, unless a few players other than Stern John can raise their game. The club was ailing before Harry's arrival and its immune systam has been well and truly overrun since he left.

Anyway, The Saints’ considerable woes are of no concern to their neighbours as their fans head to Wembley this weekend to cheer on by far the strongest squad the club has had in the lifetimes of many of its fans.

Redknapp’s prowess in the transfer market in his time at Pompey has always been the thing of legend from such flair, yet substance-filled, signings as Paul Merson, Patrik Berger and Teddy Sheringham to the equally key additions in terms of promotion and beyond in Matty Taylor and Svetoslav Todorov, all in his first spell in charge. Then there has been the shrewd acquisitioning of the likes of Kanu, Campbell, Sylvain Distin and Herman Hreidarsson on frees over the last couple of years.

In David James and Glen Johnson, his team have two leading contenders for berths in the team of the season. Niko Kranjčar and Papa Boupa Diop are very different but very useful players, while the signing of Sulley Muntari – the match-winner at Old Trafford – was a major coup.

The pièce de résistance of this wheeling and dealing was the recent addition of Jermain Defoe. The striker is cup-tied for whatever FA Cup fate befalls Redknapp’s side, but his lethal form since arriving gives me every reason to believe that, should Pompey secure the European qualification that they are so close to, then they can have a right good go at the Uefa Cup next season. Such a stage would also suit the game of the clearly talented but often underperforming John Utaka.

Last time out against United, Pompey’s defence were the heroes, with James, Johnson, Campbell and Distin all making crucial last-ditch clearances and they could be called on to do so again on Saturday. West Brom may not be as daunting opponents as The Red Devils, but they have plenty of goals in them [Kevin Phillips, Ishmael Miller, Roman Bednar, Robert Koren, Zoltan Gera - to name those who pose the most serious threat to James’ goal]. Harry will know his men will have to be on their toes again.

Pompey’s win over United was a classic smash and grab. Now, they find themselves in the position of favourites, which they are less familiar with, but surely now they cannot let the chance of glory slip. Kanu, for one, would love to knock out his old club on the way to another crack at the Cup, which he won twice as an Arsenal player.

Redknapp has taken Pompey to a new level and that achievement cannot be forgotten. David Moyes is constantly and deservedly applauded for what he has done to raise the bar at Everton, while Martin O’Neill has had nothing but plaudits in his short time at Aston Villa. The fact that Redknapp has taken a club that were playing a tier below these bigger clubs for a couple of decades and sandwiched them in between them in the top seven of the top flight says it all about how deserving he is of similar admiration.

In his time at Portsmouth, Redknapp has not been fazed by great personal slurs, nor has he taken his eye off the task at hand when large carrots, perhaps at Tottenham Hotspur and certainly at Newcastle United, have been dangled in his eyes. His guidance of the South Coast club to this stage has not lost focus and he is perilously close to that prize, with none of the usual obstacles left in his way.

Saturday’s game should mark the penultimate chapter in the story of Portsmouth’s rise under Redknapp, with the final act scheduled for May and geared to set-up a whole new story to kick off in August.

JP Lonergan (Setanta Sports)

1 comment:

Russ Taylor said...

From www.ScottishFitba.com :-

There's less than two days to go before the huge clash with the Baggies at Wembley and I thought it would be good to get the opinions of the West Brom fans before what should be a cracking semi-final.

So I'd like to introduce you to Kat, Martyn and Matt who are my guests for this interview.

What was your initial reaction to the draw? Has it changed over time?

Kat: I was a bit disappointed because obviously Pompey are the highest ranked team left but since then I have become more optimistic. I think cup ties suit as as a team and I fancy our chances seeing as you don't have Defoe playing! Generally I am excited because I think it'll be a great game of football against a club whom I admire.

Martyn: I was initially disappointed because of Portsmouth's stature over the remaining teams, then after a while I became delighted that we are expected to be beaten with relative ease by most areas of the media. Being an underdog is not always a bad thing as this season's competition has proved. Why not one more shock?

Matt: My honest initial reaction to the draw was "Oh crap! We're out!" and it hasn't changed since. All the games since we have been useless at the back and if we give Pompey the chances we gave Bristol Rovers then you'll murder us! I'm slightly pleased that Defoe isn't playing and a Pompey supporting relative says that others won't play so hope has risen slightly but I still think we'll get beaten.

We all remember what happened at the end of the 04/05 season with Pompey and Baggies fans united as Southampton went down. Do you still have a soft spot for us after that surreal occasion?

Kat: Yeah I do! Always got time for Pompey supporters, we're similar clubs.

Martyn: Absolutely, so much so that if we lost the game I'd genuinely be delighted for Portsmouth, and would want Portsmouth to win the final. I can categorically say at no point since the Great Escape day, have I wanted anything but the best for Portsmouth FC.

Matt: Sadly I don't have a soft spot for Portsmouth, a family incident occured with my Pompey supporting relative and since then I have taken an instant disliking to them so sadly I don't like them at all.

Are you happy with the job that Tony Mowbray has done so far?

Kat: Yeah. Tony Mowbray is the best thing to happen to this club for ages, he has the potential to take us really far! His philosophy on football is fantastic and just what the fans want so see, as playing proper football is part of our tradition. The only gripe I have is that with this group of players, we should be walking the league, but if we still get promotion I won't mind that we haven't dominated.

Martyn: Very happy. The man is a growing legend and has instilled an entertainment at the Albion that hasn't been seen during my time of watching them. We have scored more goals than any other team in England this season and we owe the majority of that to Mowbray's offensive outlook.

The defensive issues we have aren't as bad as the press have made them out to be ahead of the game. Sometimes we can be very ropey but other times we'll be fine and nobody bats an eyelid. It's just been in recent weeks that the former, obviously however, wobbles are likely in any season. Hopefully they are over now!

Matt: I'm 110% behind Mowbray. He has got us playing the best football in years, scoring and playing football. We need to improve at the back which is strange as our manager was a defender but I think next year we will be a solid, mid-table Premier League side.

How has Dean Kiely done since his move to The Hawthorns?

Kat: Generally good, but in the last month or so he's been shocking! Although he did keep a clean sheet in our last game against Cardiff, the performances in the last few games have left a lot to be desired. However, he has done some really good things for us so I'm not complaining too much.

Martyn: He has generally done really well. There was hardly a complaint against him until he became really indecisive around Christmas time, culiminating in some horrendous errors in recent games (most recently the 4-3 against Colchester being the capitulation of them). A lot of people are on his back at the moment but he's a good pro, and I'm sure he'll carry on with increased determination.

Matt: Deano has been an amazing signing, he has saved us so many times and is a real level head when things seem to be going to pot. If we didn't have him then I think we'd be struggling a lot more than we are.

What was your opinion of Kanu during his time as a West Brom player?

Kat: C+, could have done better. He seemed a bit lazy and lacked passion at times. Great skill but not a massive team player who was prepared to battle which was what we needed. Still, he provided us with lots of talent that we hadn't seen for a long time at The Hawthorns! Oh, and that miss against Boro!

Martyn: He was simply too good for our team at the time. He was playing with a number of Championship quality forwards (e.g: Earnshaw), who simply couldn't measure his incredible intelligence for the game. It still amazes me now how he can move his feet so fast. Maybe he should consider Strictly Come Dancing!

Matt: I enjoyed watching Kanu play, "Drunk Legs" as I used to call him. But it was only for his tricks and skills and not for what he did for the club. I think he should have scored more often and layed on more assists. Enjoyable to watch, but I wouldn't sign him personally.

We know about the obvious dangers of Ishmael Miller, Roman Bednar and Kevin "Scummer" Phillips. Who are the other players we should watch out for?

Kat: Chris Brunt - he has an amazing left foot, whips in fantastic cross after fantastic cross. If he is on form and Bednar is in the team, expect the combination of them to cause a few problems. Apart from that, Zoltan Gera can be mercurial and in Robert Koren and Jon Greening, we have a couple of central midfielders who are very skilful and can spread the ball around the park too.

Martyn: Robbie Koren is the most underrated midfielder in England in my eyes. His pass completion rate is on par with Paul Scholes at Manchester United, and most of our good stuff comes from him. He has an incredibly quick mind and has an accurate and powerful shot. I am actually delighted that nobody has noticed how amazing he is, because I'm certain he could play for a top half Premier League team!

Matt: Our entire midfield and attack are the best in the Championship without a doubt. Sadly Teixeira is out but we have quality to back up that loss. We have Brunt and Morrison who are brilliant wingers and then Greening, Koren and Gera controlling the centre and getting everywhere which is something we haven't had for years. We don't chant "We have the best midfield in the world" for nothing!

It seems to be common knowledge that your defence is poor. What are the main reasons for this?

Kat: We forget to train on the defensive aspects of our football? We're part of a match fixing scandal? Our manager never used to be a centre half.. oh wait, he did! I've got no idea why we're so poor defensively, maybe Mowbray is so keen on the exciting brand of football that he wants to make it completely heart-stopping at both ends of the pitch. It's not like we have bad defenders. It's baffling....

Martyn: They all prefer attacking to defending, it's that simple!

Matt: I don't think we have enough experience in defence, we have some young and inexperienced players who aren't used to the changing pace and style of the Championship. They will mature with age eventually but currently aren't good enough to deal with the better Championship strikers.

Are there any other particularly weak links in your side that we can exploit?

Kat: If you get a corner or a free kick within fifty yards of our box it's like getting a penalty! (Ed: That's no use, we'll miss!)

Martyn: Mowbray can get angry quite fast, maybe Harry can have a go!

Matt: We don't really have any other weak links. We will be more up for the game than Pompey as we have nothing to lose and all the pressure is on you. You have a Premier League reputation to live up to.

If you could only have either promotion to the Premier League or the FA Cup, which would you choose?

Kat: Probably the FA Cup actually, we can get promoted any year.

Martyn: As a fantasy, I would choose the FA Cup in a heartbeat, purely because battling relegation isn't exciting for the right reasons and it either ends in relief or despair. I grew up as a boy longing to see the FA Cup Final every year and it would be incredible to see West Brom in a final!

However, as football is a business, and for the progression of our squad, promotion is imperative. Continous growth is always touted as our aim, and I am more than happy with that!

Matt: I've never been able to give a more definite answer: PREMIER LEAGUE!

Finally, how confident are you leading into the game? Care to predict the score?

Kat: I'm quietly confident, I think we'll win 2-1.

Martyn: I'm not making any predictions!

Matt: If our defence hold up then we can cause you problems but in all honesty I think Pompey will narrowly win 2-1.

So there you have it, personal issues aside, the Baggies still like us and from what I've read from other Albion fans, they think they can beat us although most fans of both sides think it will be a tight game.

We'll find out at Wembley this Saturday!