Divided By A Common Team

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.

I've mentioned before how great it is that football inspires so many different opinions on the same subject.

Should Pompey play one, two, three up front? Three at the back, even?

Entertainment or containment? Ambition or pragmatism?

Harry good or bad? OK, I think he's just about settled that one, at least professionally, even if some might never forgive him personally for his defection, which now seems so long ago.

But where differences of opinion are so striking is where you might think there would be the least scope for divergence when you're all supporting the same team - over the players.

David James good goalkeeper. Fact.

And yes, we expect fans of other teams to acknowledge that after all that he has achieved for us.

But think back a year and a bit. How many of us rated him a few weeks before he became surely one of our greatest signings?

Liverpool, West Ham and Watford fans were probably making the same arguments as we are now - yes, he makes some mistakes but more than makes up for them with his saves.

But you'd have been hard-pressed to find many Pompey fans saying that before he was a Pompey player.

As it happens, the quality of his performances, the stabilising effect he has on our defence and the ability he has to become one of our best attackers via his phenomenal distribution have mad his case unanswerable.

But he's still a perfect example of how players divide supporters, even those watching the same game.

Here are a few examples I've noticed recently, from the conversations (and occasional abuse!) around me in the North Stand; from discussions with fellow supporters at work (yes, there's a core of Pompey fans even in the BBC Newsroom) and from observing the postings on this site, often with mouth open with incredulity.

Glen Johnson

His supporters: Great going forward; quick.

Detractors: Far too casual; poor passer; poor defender; uninterested.

Dalton's view: An excellent player who surely can only get better. Yes, much better going forward; pacy and tricky, posing the sort of headaches defenders hate, and with decent crossing ability.

But a better defender than he is given credit for; generally keeps pace with opposing forwards and deceptively good in the air. Yes, he can be too casual; he is prone to costly concentration lapses, and that sometimes leads to his being caught out of position - although his pace often gets him out of scrapes.

I think his defending has improved since he returned to Fratton - and he's an excellent asset to the club.

Hermann Hreidarsson

Supporters: Good in the air; tough tackler; lots of experience.

Detractors: Too old; past it (if he ever had it!); not good enough.

Dalton: I rated him highly in his early days, but I admit I saw him twice against Pompey last season and figured he was, indeed, past it.

But in recent weeks, he's been a revelation - tight at the back and a genuine attacking threat, with two unexpected goals into the bargain, both from excellent footballing moves.

I still reckon he'll run out of puff and have a poor spell - but left-back is now a position where we're pretty strong.

Traore looked excellent earlier this season; Pamarot often performs better on the left than on the right or in the centre, and Matt Taylor can bring extra attacking impetus if he plays there.

Sean Davis

Supporters: Gives 100 per cent; does the unglamorous jobs well; the best tackler in the club.

Detractors: Limited skill; too many wayward passes; gets booked too often; doesn't score enough goals.

Dalton: My view of Davis has fluctuated ever since he joined from Spurs with Mendes and Pamarot. I thought he outshone Mendes on his debut but faded badly.

He was inconsistent last season, and even this time round, I had misgivings about some of his earlier performances. But in recent weeks, he has come into his own, culminating with a performance against Fulham that he can rarely have bettered.

He does the running that Gary O'Neil used to do; the tidying up that Pedro does so well and has even found time to get forward and score! Mind you, if you can't score against Reading…

Still gets booked too often, but still not as frequently as Richard Hughes.

Pedro Mendes

Supporters: Gifted, perceptive, the heartbeat of the team. It's a poor to do when the Pompey lynchpin can't get in the team.

Detractors: Well, I've not really noticed too many, although many criticise him for allegedly giving the ball away too much, which is an accusation levelled at most skilful players with vision (see Kranjcar below and in previous generations Kevin Dillon, Glenn Hoddle and David Beckham).

Dalton: I don't like naming individual posters to this site, but I can do little better than echo the description of one clearly intelligent contributor - he's an artist.

He is one of the most intelligent footballers I've seen, especially at Fratton Park. He has vision - watch him when he's playing when he hasn't got the ball. He always finds himself in the right place to collect it from a colleague or to intercept from an opponent.

He's pretty quick still, is a good tackler, a phenomenal passer of the ball and has a terrific shot, which everyone in England must be aware of by now, particularly Manchester.

He's desperately unlucky not to be in the team, but who can criticise Harry's midfield combination at the moment?

Niko Kranjcar

Supporters: Sublime skill; vision; can take on players and shoot well.

Detractors: Lightweight, flits in and out of games; gives the ball away too much.

Dalton: Ah, Niko Kranjcar. The new Quashie - not in style, but certainly in the way he divides the fans.

If Mendes is an artist, Niko is a master. The most talented player on our books, and one of the most skilful ever. An entertainer.

But he has to do it more often. He's not the finished article. But then, he's only 23.

Niko showed signs of all this last season, when he encountered a pretty tough baptism to English football.

But this season, he has been a revelation, settling in confidently to a role slightly less isolated than when he was an outright left-winger.

His roving role in support of the lone attacker suits his style of play, and he has often provided the team with the attacking momentum to put opponents on the back foot - particularly against Reading (and previously against Leeds), and to an extent against Fulham, although I acknowledge he was inconsistent that day.

In my opinion, on current form, it's impossible to leave Kranjcar out of the side.

But that doesn't mean Harry shouldn't pick Matt Taylor. Why should it be one or the other?

I'm not advocating wholesale changes at the moment, but there is certainly scope to play both.

There is a perception - totally unjustified - that you have to play one or the other on the left of midfield. You don't.

For one thing, both look comfortable in the attacking role just behind the forward-most striker.


How many times has Kranjcar kicked the ball with his left foot?

Precisely. The only way he could get in the side was when there was a vacancy on the left, but he would be just as effective - if not more so - on the right, or more centrally placed.

He's extremely versatile.

Like most of the class acts Harry has put together in this most exciting of seasons at Fratton Park.