A Miracle Too Many?

Last updated : 08 May 2011 By Jim Bonner

Neville Dalton is a journalist and a Portsmouth fan of more than 40 years.

If Steve Cotterill keeps us up he'll deserve to succeed Jose Mourinho at the Bernabeu.

Did I really write that? Seems I did.

And the theme of the article, just before this season began, was much the same as the one I wrote a year earlier.

Two years of miserable struggle on the field and even harder battles off it.

Surely that's enough for any club - its personnel and fans - to put up with?

But as we end this season of mediocrity, many of us are bracing ourselves for yet another summer of insecurity and frustration, followed by a season of competing with one hand behind our backs... something we're getting used to witnessing.

It seems beyond our darkest imagination that Pompey would still be living a hand-to-mouth existence nearly three years after the world caved in on the club and it was plunged into financial meltdown.

Admittedly, there's relief that we still have a club, but surely the fans have suffered enough for the dishonesty and incompetence that plunged Pompey to the edge of extinction.

While Cotterill really should not have been too surprised at the plight he encountered on entering Fratton Park, does he really deserve another close-season of indecision, uncertainty and a disintegrating squad that needs rebuilding - but without the necessary tools?

I look back at that comment about Cotterill's task a year ago and I think maybe that wasn't too far from the truth.

He has assembled an average team that is set to finish the season in mid-table mediocrity - surely as much as any of us could have hoped for, given the club's extremely serious plight this time last year.

The squad is a mixture of loan signings, inherited overpaid journeymen and willing youngsters (though the majority of the last group has been unceremoniously discarded, dismissed as not good enough, despite our shortage of personnel).

Yet it managed two impressive undefeated runs, squashed between sequences where they couldn't buy a win (not entirely surprising, given the club's financial state).


They hit six against one of their nemeses, Leicester City, during a run of 14 goals in four games.

Yet they lost to (relegated) Sheffield United (as usual), (relegated) Preston, Barnsley, Crystal Palace, Derby, Doncaster (at home), and even Bristol City and Brighton.

It's laughable that some were talking about the play-offs. But make no mistake - this season's overall performance represents a triumph for Cotterill.

His signings have looked questionable, and most are below the standard we would like to see at Fratton.

But he had to choose from the bargain basement, long after our more wealthy rivals - yes, the Doncasters and Barnsleys of this world - had had their pick and left behind their rejects.

I've not always been impressed by his tactics - but blessed with such a small, and limited, squad, tactics were a test of the manager's ingenuity and powers of motivation.

For most of the season, I don't think he can be faulted on those scores, given those restrictions.

He may go down in Pompey folklore as bringing some of the most limited players to the Park since the days of Tiler and Vincent, but he could only sign those who wanted to come, whose clubs were willing to let them go, and who were prepared to accept the salary structure apparently now in place at the club.

The Lawrence/Kitson/Wilson deal still appears mysterious, given those apparent strictures governing the club's signing policy, but on the face of it, it looked a good deal in the circumstances.

His biggest shortcoming, in my view, is the ill-discipline pervading the entire squad. Players who kept a rein on their behaviour under previous managers now appear to have carte blanche to kick and intimidate their way through matches.

As I've written before, we have turned into the moaning Stoke cloggers who gatecrashed the Premier League.

There's a fine line between controlled aggression and thuggery. Pompey haven't always been on the right side of it.

But for all his faults, the manager deserves appreciation for his achievements.

Steve Cotterill has performed admirably in challenging circumstances, and doesn't deserve more of the same in the next 12 months.

For once, can Portsmouth Football Club get its house in order sooner rather than later?

And can we cling to the hope that there really is a genuine person out there with enough money to give the club, its fans and long-suffering manager a sound footing and a decent chance of competing with our rivals on a level playing field?

Now, that really would be a miracle.