Early Doors

Last updated : 20 August 2009 By Jim Bonner

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

A couple of games in and here are a few early observations:

Plus ca change…

New season, new personnel, same performance… As I've mentioned before, Pompey's desperate plight, on and off the pitch, has lowered my expectations - which makes defeats (even home defeats to Fulham) slightly easier to take.

With their current squad and no immediate prospect of any money to spend, I can't see where any win is coming from, so draws and narrow defeats are tiny consolations rather than the blows that they became when Pompey's star was in the ascendancy.

Neither of our opening defeats came as a shock to me.

After their largely miserable showings last year, and the negative approach under Paul Hart, it was hardly surprising that this year we would struggle to improve, with the rug having been pulled from under the manager.

That means more latitude for him from me (and no doubt many other fans), but precious little hope for the club's on-field future.

But I was hoping that the fact we began the season level with everyone else might trigger a more positive response from manager and team.

Yes, we had a fair share of possession and played much of the game in Fulham's half. But it was rarely quality possession - and it certainly wasn't threatening.

The tactics were still predictable and limited: one up front (albeit someone suited to the job - and both willing and capable of running into the channels), with totally inadequate support; too much emphasis on long, angled balls from Marc Wilson; too many plodders; too little flair - plus one or two who just didn't look interested.

I gather the performance at Birmingham was not much better.

One of the few plus points for me against Fulham was the impression made by Frederic Piquionne. But how much more effective might he have been if he had had another striker - or a couple of midfielders - alongside him?

Where was the creativity? I thought Hart was trying to give the impression that its sacrifice last season was only temporary, justified in his view by the position we found ourselves in.

But on Saturday he selected Mullins, Diop and Mokoena in the same midfield, leaving only Kranjcar (who was poor by his standards) and the under-rated Belhadj to provide any creativity.

While Mullins was more tenacious and slightly more effective than last season, he still provides only limited fare, and as Hart acknowledged after the match, you won't get more from Mokoena than a tidying-up role.

He's not going to turn defence into attack, beat players or spray accurate medium- and long-distance passes.

In fact, while most of his passes did reach their targets, few of those were more than 10 yards away - and the recipients were invariably marked by one, two or even three players. Hardly a recipe for positive play.

And while Diop performed promisingly in the first half, reminding us what we had missed for so much of last season, he possessed neither the pace nor stamina to take us forward in the way Diarra and Mendes used to.

As I acknowledge, we have to adjust our sights to the capabilities of the players at our disposal. But why oh why was Basinas again on the bench (though that's progress from much of Hart's reign last season) - in a home game?

Maybe Hart will change the habits of a managerial lifetime and give Basinas a run now that Diop is again injured.

Utaka (and maybe Kranjcar) apart, there was nothing wrong with the players' attitude, nor commitment to Hart's cause.

The problem lay with the philosophy Hart has instilled.

In my view, while Fulham may not have really deserved three points, Pompey certainly didn't.

And apart from a few names, there was little in our first game of the season to suggest much difference from the last few months of last term.

New faces on the cards?

Like many fans, I'm already resigned to limited success in the transfer market, too.

Hart is relying on free transfers and loan signings to replace millions of pounds worth of talent, and cannot be expected to produce silk purses from such raw material.

His and Peter Storrie's job must be made all the more difficult by the fact that the turmoil the club is currently suffering can hardly make Fratton Park an attractive destination for anyone talented enough to have alternative offers on the table.

So attracting the likes of Piquionne and Anthony Vanden Borre appears, on early evidence of the former and the reputation of the latter, to represent a decent achievement in the circumstances.

I can't say I feel the same way about Steve Finnan (who I thought was largely out of his depth at Liverpool) and Aaron Mokoena (hardly the cleanest player I've seen play against Pompey).

But hey, it's a crisis. And maybe they're the best we can expect now. But if so, let's not get carried away with visions of top-17 finishes or anything.

I'm generally loath to comment on players yet to sign, but since Pompey and Bolton have confirmed our interest in Gavin McCann, I can only conclude that it adds substance to the impression that Hart is building a team of cloggers at Fratton.

Mercifully, we don't now have to suffer the annual suspensions of Sean Davis, but if Mokoena isn't serving a ban by Christmas, it will be a bit of a shock. Mullins may not be far behind, if Saturday's evidence is anything to go by (which will probably be the only way Hart would omit him from the side!), and we all know Diop's record in that respect (if he plays enough games to get the bookings!).

Given that we've been linked with Joey Barton - and we still have Richard booking-a-game Hughes waiting in the wings - the picture is becoming clearer.

I stand to be corrected, but based on trawling two respected statistical sources, McCann averages a booking every fourth game - with three red cards to his name.

Mokoena surprisingly only one in three (and just one red), but surely his foul count is a match for Hughes and Diop?

I appreciate we need strong, hard players - and we've had plenty in the past under previous managers - but given our lack of creative players and genuine goalscorers, the balance appears to be worryingly wrong.

Open-house policy

Having given Pompey a conditional pat on the back a couple of weeks back for its break with recent tradition, I have more praise for the club over its sudden apparent openness over what is going on at the Park.

Peter Storrie's and Hart's comments on the BBC Radio Solent forum gave a lot more insight into the problems the club has been facing, and the likelihood of the Fahim takeover going ahead.

Best of all, there was also scope for reading between the lines, and subsequently we have been treated to the news - even confirmed on the official Pompey website - that Storrie is indeed heading a consortium hoping to take over the club.

The Solent forum helped confirm my own scepticism, which I've had since day one, about the takeover. And to be honest, if Storrie really does have backers with genuine financial muscle, I'd be more than happy if Fahim's involvement were to fall through altogether.

Of course, Plan Bs have been known to fail, too, so the inevitable conclusion, I'm afraid, that we are all likely to draw, is that the club's future is still too delicately balanced for comfort.

At least now, though, I do feel a little more "in the loop" than I have for some time.