Euro-Blow

I know the discussion of European Tours and UEFA Cup qualification might be getting a bit tiresome now so I'll do my best to make sure that this is the last article I mention the subject.

The optimistic Pompey fans keep telling me not to worry that we've missed out on Europe this season and that "there's always next season" but is that really the case? Have we blown the best ever chance we'll have of playing UEFA Cup Football?

This was the Premiership table on New Year's Day 2007 after our 1-1 draw with Tottenham at Fratton Park:

4th Bolton 39pts GD 6
5th Arsenal 36pts GD 18
6th Portsmouth 36pts GD 11
7th Tottenham 32pts GD -2
8th Everton 31pts GD 6
9th Reading 30pts GD 0

Three months and a measly 7 points gathered later and we've gone from 4 points clear of 7th with a far superior goal difference to 5 points off 6th position with some very nasty looking fixtures remaining.

It's not mathematically impossible to qualify for Europe as we could still finish the season on 64 points and Sam Allardyce reckons that 60 points will guarantee European football next season but can we achieve that target with the games we have left? I've predicted our last seven results to see what points total we'd get should my Mystic Meg impressions be accurate:

Man United (H): LOSE
Watford (A): WIN
Newcastle (H): WIN
Aston Villa (A): LOSE
Liverpool (H): DRAW
Everton (A): LOSE
Arsenal (H): DRAW

Based on my predictions we'd finish the season on 51 points, three wins short of the target. Of course, my predictions could be well off but the fact is that we'd have to go on our best ever run at the end of a season to achieve 6th place in the league.

So why didn't we make our 6th place in the Premiership safer in January?

We were in such a strong position back then but only managed to bring in three players that haven't had the desired impact on the season. Lauren got injured and I still think he'll be a very good long term signing for us, Djimi Traore has been average at best and we might not even have Arnold Mvuemba next season. We never strengthened the squad in the areas we needed to (i.e: up front and the wings) and as a consequence we have suffered a bad run of form and virtually blown our chances of Europe.

Going back to the "There's always next season" statement, how much truth is there to it? If you assume that the top 4 of the league will be filled by the "big 4" next season then that initially only leaves one spot open for UEFA Cup qualification and I can think of at least three football clubs who'd have a better case for finishing 5th than we have next season.

Bolton, Tottenham and Everton already have bigger (and arguably better) squads than us and no doubt they'll only continue to get stronger whilst Aston Villa have a huge amount of money to spend and a very good manager to spend it next season.

That last statement could apply to Pompey too but there's been no proof of big spending this season and there are plenty of clubs who will look like more attractive propositions than us next season because of our current lack of decent training facilities and stadium. You only have to look at Nicholas Anelka's decision to join "long-ball" Bolton instead of us to prove that we're not the most attractive club a top quality player would want to join.

Then of course we have to take into account our recent form. Historically, teams that have a bad second half of a season end up struggling for the next one and whilst I don't think we'll ever get relegated with Harry Redknapp in charge, our 2007 form is hardly going to inspire us towards a challenge for UEFA Cup football next season is it?

So we could well have blown our best chance of ever qualifying for Europe, but then we won't really know until we either play in the UEFA Cup or get relegated.

For the time being it looks like we've become the new "Charlton" by getting to the safety margin and falling away whilst Charlton have become the new "Pompey" as their surge towards safety continues.