Blinking Shame

Last updated : 12 April 2007 By Jim Bonner

Neville Dalton is a journalist with the BBC News website and a Portsmouth fan of 40 years. His expressed views are his and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Don't you just love being a Pompey fan?

You just know what you're going to get - and that's the unexpected!

Not sure how many fancied Pompey to beat Manchester United last Saturday, but I would wager it's a fair few fewer than expected them to lose at Watford.

To be honest, while I wasn't predicting a win over the Champions League semi-finalists, I half-expected Pompey to fare better against them than the team at the opposite end of the Premiership.

Somehow Pompey don't do predictable - nor do they do comfortable, but more on that later.

Even those who refuse to see anything but sunny skies at Fratton must admit our form since Christmas has been pretty poor, and it's only our excellent first half of the season that keeps us out of the relegation fight.

I'm not knocking that - the delight the team gave us in that initial unbeaten run, giving up goals as rarely as Mourinho eats humble pie, won't be easily forgotten - but as I mentioned last month, for all the excitement and anticipation of the pre-Christmas period, we're now on course for a mid-table finish not a million miles from where we ended our debut season in the Premiership.

We've failed fully to seize our chance of building on that magnificent foundation and clinching a place in European competition next season.

And one of the reasons is our inexplicable reversion to unnecessary caution in recent months.

I make no apology for returning to the issue, which at least proved a talking point earlier this month.

Look, if anyone can get us into Europe, it has to be the man who has brought us unprecedented post-war success - a meaningful trophy that got us into the big boys' league; a refreshing brand of football; players of the reputation and quality that we could only previously have dreamed of, and best part of a season looking down on the rest of the league.

But for some reason, we've retreated into our shell, sacrificing some of our free-flowing football and certainly lowering our ambitions in games.

The Fulham, Watford and - to a certain extent - Manchester United games are all examples.

For the first 15 minutes at Craven Cottage, we looked like we could have torn the hosts apart.

But instead of Kranjcar's cracker becoming the launch-pad for a Pompey pasting, we lost our rhythm, showed less ambition in attack and retreated farther and farther towards our own goal.

I know Fulham didn't carve out many clear chances, and their equaliser was a lucky ricochet, but anyone who has watched Pompey's inability to hang on to leads over so many years could see what was coming.

We could have killed them off. Instead, it was our European hopes that were virtually extinguished.

Against United, the players deserve praise for hassling and harassing their superstar opponents, and on balance thoroughly deserving their victory.

But towards the end - and especially after Ferdinand's own goal put us 2-0 up - we failed to kill the game off.

I'm not necessarily talking about going flat out for more goals, but there were several occasions when players dithered on the ball in midfield or defence when they should have pumped it away or hoofed it out of play (yes, even we purists can accept agricultural tactics when the time is right).

You might get away with casual against some teams, but it was inevitable that United's well-honed pack dogs would seize on hesitation and launch their own counter-attacks.

And O'Shea's late goal certain prompted some uncomfortable moments in the final minutes.

Which brings me to Watford.

Am I alone in fearing we scored too early?

We all know the players had an off-day - there were too many occasions when we not only failed to get to the first ball but were nowhere to be seen for the second, either.

But our timidity was evident, too, in our tactics. Time and again after Taylor's quite exquisite goal, Pompey attacks petered out because players declined to head for the Watford box or to put the ball there because they just knew there wouldn't be anyone else to capitalise.

That's not because Kanu is too slow. It's because the whole team wasn't playing with attacking intent.

Deliberate or otherwise, Pompey didn't show the appetite for more goals until they were 4-1 down.

Harry was quoted in one newspaper as saying that after Taylor's goal he was confident we would win 1-0.

That says it all. Pompey don't do 1-0. At least, we don't do it very well, and instead put our fans through every frustrating emotion there is.

Instead of killing off a team that thus far had shown little threat and even less confidence, we invited them back in - an invitation they accepted with aplomb.

I'm grateful for what I've seen from Pompey this season, but when I watch them, I don't wear rose-tinted specs.

We had a great chance of an unfeasibly high finish this season. But we blinked - and missed it.

Watford praise

Speaking of Watford, back in November after our home encounter with the Premiership new boys, I was highly critical of the way they played and suggested the sooner they returned whence they came the better.

I still feel the same but want to give them credit for their performance on Monday. Yes, they still indulge in the niggling dark arts that spoil so many games these days.

But on top of evident determination to fight for all their worth to stay in the elite league, they displayed no little quality.

All six goals were excellent in their own way. Even the penalty came about because they capitalised on our midfield dithering - a cute turn freeing Priskin for the run into the area that triggered Traore's foul.

And Priskin's well-taken goal and Bouzza's second were also products of swift attacks and excellent touch.

So while I'm not apologising for my harsh words, I congratulate Watford for showing signs of what Pompey have begun to be so good at - and forcing Pompey into perpetrating a few of the Hornets' bad habits to boot.

And finally

Delighted to see some message-board discussion of my last column, with some interesting views being expressed.

Particularly loved Changi's mock letter to Harry, which made some clever points.

Happy to have my views challenged and arguments made to the contrary.

But one small thing - if you're going to have a go, base your comments on what I actually wrote!

I was critical of some of Redknapp's tactics in recent months, and particularly his reluctance to encourage attacking formations against some of the lesser teams in the Premiership.

But I never said Harry should go - or, indeed, that he wasn't the best man for the job.

I'm pleased he's here and grateful for what he has given us.

That doesn't mean, though, that he's above criticism - and if the way his teams play has contributed to a poor run of results - and frustrated me into the bargain - I've every right to say so.