Exposed At The Rear?

Last updated : 01 November 2006 By Jim Bonner
Neville Dalton is a journalist with the BBC News website and a Portsmouth fan of nearly 40 years. His expressed views are his and not necessarily those of the BBC.

It's happened!

October 26, 2006, two months into the new season - Harry uttered those words that most of us said he would no longer be able to justify after his signing spree in the close season: We're down to the bare bones.

Well, he might not have said those exact words, but he certainly suggested that with Johnson, Primus and Stefanovic injured and doubts for the Reading match, he had little room for manoeuvre in defence.

Heavens! There was even talk of recalling Andy "I'm not as good as Glen Johnson" (no s***!) - Griffin from his loan spell with Stoke City.

The fact is that if all those injured defenders had been unable to play against Reading, we would be fielding a defence not much different from our first-choice back four last season.

OK, Sol Campbell is there and Brian Priske isn't. But it's not that different from any of those permutations that we used during our season of struggle last year.

And there's the rub - two or three injuries (and there are surely suspensions to come in the next month or two) and we really are down to the skeleton that Harry is so fond of referring to.

Despite signing 10 players in the summer.

Harry deserves great credit for bringing in the sort of talent he did - though a few of them still have much to prove in the alien environment of the Premiership.

Our midfield options are the strongest I can ever recall, and while we're probably short of a regular goalscorer, it's great to think we can haul the likes of Kanu and LuaLua off and replace them with Andy Cole.

But if there was a nagging doubt at the back of mind as we began the new season, it was our lack of options at the back. I'm sure it wasn't for the want of trying.

The very fact that valiant but limited triers like Andy Griffin and Andy O'Brien have not been near the first team in the Premiership this season illustrates that Harry had similar misgivings about last season's defence.

Having seen five different players shine in our midfield in the last two home games, I can confidently say we have the greatest midfield I've ever seen at Fratton.

The fact that Sean Davis could be dropped while close to the top of his form against West Ham without any adverse effect speaks volumes for our fantastic strength in depth there.

The fact that Fernandes looked excellent and brought something else to the team was a much-welcomed bonus.

And the fact that Davis was part of another excellent central quartet when he returned against Reading underpinned my optimism.

I can see why Harry restored Davis – despite his terrific performance against West Ham, I'm not totally convinced that Fernandes has yet come to terms with the physical demands of the English game at top level.

And although I can't wait to see Kranjcar in action, I suspect the same is true of him.

Having long been a fan of wingers, I'm sorry there has been little or no room for Koroman or Douala yet.

But again I see why. O'Neil seems back to near his best, and while Taylor has been inconsistent in my view this season, he brings something to the team – maybe it's his Englishness and enthusiasm and commitment – that we miss when he's not there.

I thought his performance against Reading was as good as I've seen from him – certainly in the Premiership – and knowing there is such competition for places is a wonderful feeling when I've spent much of the past near-40 years wildly celebrating even one quality player in the team.

But all this new-found genuine strength in depth also serves to remind us - we really are short of defensive cover - the sort of additions that would give us the same kind of choice of permutations at the back as we now seem to have elsewhere.

I hope our excellent start to the season enables us to withstand the fiery autumn fixture list well enough to see us through to the January transfer window relatively undamaged by our defensive limitations.