Theatre Of Nightmares
Things looked bad before the match as Sol Campbell was out due to illness to add to the injuries to Glen Johnson and Linvoy Primus. When kick-off finally arrived the game was virtually over in the first ten minutes.
Wayne Rooney went down in the box in the second minute. My immediate thought was that it was never a penalty in a million years and now having seen the incident again it's clear that Rooney went down far too easily under Stefanovic's challenge and that it was one of those decisions that only ever get given to Man United at Old Trafford.
It got worse soon after as a clumsy challenge from Andy O'Brien gave the hosts a free kick not too far outside the box and Ronaldo struck it straight in, giving David James no chance. The game was virtually over then as United dominated the first 45 and we struggled to get out of our own half. We did start to play in the last 5 minutes and Matty Taylor had a thunderbolt very well saved by Edwin Van Der Sar.
After the break Harry put on Andy Cole as we switched to 4-4-2 and just like at Chelsea, we started to play a bit and put United under a bit of pressure. We had a very good chance to pull one back as some neat passing left Kranjcar on the edge of the box with the goal at his mercy but he blazed the ball wide to the dismay of the travelling fans.
United then sealed the victory after a short corner caught out our weakened defence and Neville's cross was met by Vidic after some non-existant marking in the box. The home side then eased off and we could have scored late on with a free kick well saved again by Van Der Sar and right at the death there was a mix up between the United goalkeeper and Vidic, the ball broke to Davis (I think) and all he had to do was smash into an empty net but he tapped the ball harmlessly wide as we ended up being comfortably beaten.
This result didn't happen because we were bad. We weren't brilliant by any stretch of the imagination but we did create some chances and play some tidy football at times but the fact was that Manchester United were far too good today and are the best opposition we have played by a distance this season so far and once we went behind so early, there never looked a way back.
There were a few things I learnt from this game though:
a) Portsmouth cannot play 4-5-1! In my opinion 4-5-1 only works when you have natural wingers on either side with either a target man or a willing runner to do the donkey work up front. We had Benjani to do the donkey work but Niko Kranjcar and Gary O'Neil are not wingers and therefore we didn't have any real width across the pitch.
4-5-1 is a negative formation for an attacking side like Pompey. I noticed in the first half that when we did have the ball, there was nothing on for us in an attacking sense and we kept having to play the ball back. Once we switched to a 4-4-2 there was more to aim at up front and the midfielders had more space to work with and play some football. Even if we didn't go down 2-0 early on, United still managed to create a whole lot of chances when we were playing 4-5-1 yet we couldn't get at them.
b) Kanu; the Premiership's top goalscorer did not get any time on the pitch. Why? He would have provided some sort of aerial threat up front for when we did eventually manage to win a corner or get some crosses in and his build up play could have created other chances too. I can't understand why he didn't get any time on the ball.
c) We need to invest in at least two defenders in January. We had to play a back four of Pamarot, Stefanovic, O'Brien and Taylor yesterday. Pamarot isn't a right back whilst O'Brien isn't good enough for this level of football. Stefanovic is much better on the left whilst Taylor had a mere defensively against Neville. We need strength in depth at the back and although judging that makeshift back four against a very good United side might seem harsh, it was clear how much we missed the injured/sick players yesterday.
I may seem a bit over-critical of yesterdays performance. Don't get me wrong I'm not saying that we would have won the game if we had played Kanu and started with a 4-4-2 as United were clearly the better side but I don't like to see us play in a negative style. It doesn't suit us and we always look more dangerous when playing two up front.
I'm not too bothered about the defeat in truth as we were always likely to lose with such a weak defence. The good news is that the teams around us failed to pick up any points this weekend so we still lie in 4th place in the league after 11 games of the season and we have a great chance to cement that position with consecutive home fixtures against Fulham and Watford on the horizon.
We've now played the two hardest fixtures in the Premiership so they're out of the way. Our run coming up will be key to our season with home games against teams we should be beating with a trip to "relegation threatened" Newcastle after that. Thinking optimistically, we should be getting 7 to 9 points out of them games.
As long as we play 4-4-bloody-2!
Pompey Player Ratings
David James: 8 - Made some great saves to deny United a bigger lead and he had no chance with the goals.
Noe Pamarot: 6 - He didn't do too bad at right back in fairness. Nullified Giggs adequately and got forward occasionally.
Andy O'Brien: 5 - Poor. It wouldn't surprise me to see him move on in January.
Dejan Stefanovic: 5 - Made too many mistakes in the centre. He is much better on the left.
Matthew Taylor: 5 - Struggled against Gary Neville although could have scored. Having the undefensive Kranjcar ahead of him didn't help.
Gary O'Neil: 6 - Energetic but failed to impose himself on the game.
Sean Davis: 5 - Didn't do much in the midfield battle.
Manuel Fernandes: 5 - Went missing and got subbed at half time.
Pedro Mendes: 6 - Best of our midfielders but he kept giving the ball away at crucial times.
Niko Kranjcar: 5 - Wasted our best chance and lacks any real defensive ability.
Benjani: 6 - Poor sod ran and ran but had no service up front on his own in the first half.
Richard Hughes: N/A - No time to do anything.
Andy Cole: 6 - Gave us something up front but failed to make an impact.
Lomana LuaLua: 6 - Looked bright but had little time.