Happy New Year?

By Jim Bonner
Last updated : 10 January 2007

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

Wet Wigan weekend brings me cheer

Well, here we are: 2007 and we're still in the top six. In fact, if my memory
serves me right, sixth is actually the lowest position we've been all season.

But judging by our recent performances, it hardly represents a reversal
of form and fortunes.

If anything, I would say our results over the second quarter of the
season – featuring games at Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and
Arsenal – were in their way even better than the jet-powered start we
had against relatively modest opposition.

Early winter was always going to be the crucial test both of our ability to last
the pace (at least to survive to the spring shake-up) and of our credibility as
a Premiership force.

A decent Christmas and New Year has enabled us to build on that success
and left us in with a decent chance of completing our most successful season
for half a century.

Eternal pessimist that I am, I'm more than aware that there is still a long way
to go, but a wet weekend against Wigan has left me with cause for genuine
hope.

Saturday's FA Cup match was hardly a spectacle – the weather; the pitch and
the opposition saw to that.

But it was exactly the sort of game we would have thrown away – or at least
only drawn – so many times in the past, defeated as much by our failure to
convert dominance into goals as by a team that more than made up for
inadequacies in skill and confidence with endeavour, spirit and sheer hard
work.

But this Pompey passed the test. They didn't panic. They matched Wigan's
industry and surpassed their skill.

Winning when you're not playing particularly well and against a team of such
battlers is a promising sign that so often has been missing from Pompey's
make-up.

And with Andy Cole finally showing glimpses of the form that made him such
a successful and feared Premiership striker, even I have genuine cause for
optimism – and I'm actually looking forward to the clash against Manchester
United, which hopefully will give us the opportunity to show Old Trafford what
we could have done had we not been shorn of so many key players in the
corresponding league fixture.

Giant thrillers

Speaking of the FA Cup, what an irony that we should be drawn against
United.

When we were a struggling lower-league team, the chances to play
money-spinning cup ties against the glamour teams of the elite were
few and far between.

Arsenal in 1971, Spurs a few years earlier and Manchester United themselves
in the League Cup more than a decade ago and the FA Cup in our promotion
season were notable exceptions rather than the rule – not to mention the
never-to-be-forgotten 4th round encounter with Southampton at Fratton Park.

Yet since we were promoted to the Premiership, we've played Liverpool,
Arsenal and Saints in just a handful of seasons.

And now it's up to Old Trafford for the second time in three months, and the
fifth time in less than four years.

What we would have given for that just a few years ago.

Quashie insults over the top

Nigel Quashie was one of those players who split Pompey fans right down
the middle. For every supporter, there was a detractor (OK, maybe more
than one – but you get the point… you either admired him or didn't rate him
at all).

And while – after his somewhat shaky start – I was very much in the former
camp, I could see why some had their doubts.

He was really just a bit too slow to become a real force at the very top of the
English game; his goalscoring record for someone with such a venomous
shot was poor to say the least; and that snarl hardly endeared him to match
officials, who showed him a fair few yellow cards in his time with Pompey.

Yet to use the above to argue that he was not a good footballer was to miss
his extraordinary contribution to Pompey's rise to – and survival in – the
Premiership.

In our pivotal season of 2001/2, he came of age as a quality midfielder,
providing Robert Prosinecki's “legs” to enable the ageing conjuror to
sprinkle his magic dust in his casual fashion around
England's first-division
grounds.

Every blade of glass at Fratton saw the underneath of Quashie's boots in
every game he played. Every opponent was the subject of a Quashie tackle
or harried by the soon-to-become Scots terrier who yielded barely an inch
to any player.

And his superb array of passing – short and long – began to blossom
alongside that of the Croatian master.

When Prosi left, Quashie took on a similar role alongside the magnificent
Paul Merson, whose own contribution to our success was probably best
appreciated only after he was no longer at the club.

Quashie was quality – and he picked up where he left off when Pompey were
promoted. His lack of pace was possibly more exposed at this new altitude –
but only slightly so.

And while his shooting didn't improve, he established himself as one of those
unsung heroes that every team needs – barely noticed by the average fan
seduced by glamour and glitz and fancy footwork, but whose commitment
and calm, authoritative air would be badly missed if they weren't there.

And so it proved. When he moved to Southampton, I told anyone who would
listen that we would miss Quashie more than Harry Redknapp – in the end,
we probably missed them equally, for at the time they were inextricably
linked.

Yes, Southampton went down and took Quashie with them, but most Saints
fans will acknowledge he was one of the few shining lights in their dire
season, and if they had had a few more Quashies in their team, they might
have stayed up.

I don't know much about his time at West Brom, and I acknowledge that
successive relegations hardly augur well for fans of his new club, West Ham.

But let's not forget, that thanks in no small part to this man, there was one
team that he managed to keep in the Premiership against all the odds –
Pompey.

Gem Stone

From one former Pompey midfielder to another. Steve Stone had a more
unifying effect among Fratton fans.

Few would criticise his heart-on-sleeve approach to playing for Pompey and
the degree of success he had in helping promote and keep us in the top
league.

His transfer to Leeds at a time when he was on the way down was probably
a decent move for all parties.

But his eve-of-season injury was a devastating and unfair blow for such a
committed, enthusiastic footballer.

It was sad to read he has had to admit defeat in his fight to regain fitness,
and I'd like to see Pompey acknowledge his contribution to the club's
success, perhaps by participating in or organising a testimonial for him.

Or more constructively, they could do worse than add him to our growing
band of coaches.

I believe he has an astute football brain which – allied to his commitment
and approach to the game – could benefit our latest crop of talented
individuals.

There's probably a limit to how many backroom staff we can sustain, but if
Stone was so inclined, I'd go out of my way to have him at the club.

And if Tony Adams leaves at the end of the season, as he appears to have
suggested, we could do worse than replace him with a real gem – Stone.

Portsmouth Match Reports

Sky Bet League One Tue 17th April 18:45

Bradford City 3 - 1 Portsmouth

Last game - Match Centre


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