Losing Hart

By Jim Bonner
Last updated : 24 November 2009

It was hardly the biggest surprise of the season that Pompey lost patience with Paul Hart.

His departure, after the woeful string of results this season, was inevitable.

But let's get one thing straight: it was not Paul Hart who relegated Pompey.

The club's future was determined before the season started. The dire state of its finances; the incredible level of debts - and the fact that not only did we owe banks a small fortune - no, make that a large fortune - we also owed players' agents one, too.

That's right. We had spent so much of other people's money to give us that fleeting, but memorable, period of success that we even owed the sport's parasites - the ones who don't actually benefit anyone but themselves - a huge wad, too.

To judge by what Peter Storrie later told us, it was only thanks to his excellent relationship with these people, and with rival clubs whom we also owed money, that we were even allowed to remain in existence.

A lesser relationship might well have led to one or all of them pulling the plug on us before the season even started.

When August approached with many a big name already passing through the Out door and barely a minion entering through the other one, it was clear we would never have a team that could hit the ground running and even compete on level terms in the opening third of the season.

No matter what people say, players need time to gel - particularly when Pompey needed a whole team's worth all at once.

And when we kicked off the season against Fulham with Aaron Mokoena and Frederic Piquionne the only new faces - and the likes of Matt Ritchie and Joel Ward on the bench - you needed to be an eternal optimist of the sort so prevalent on this website throughout the summer and the early weeks of the season to foresee anything other than relegation on the horizon.

The fact was, Pompey were desperately close to relegation last season, even with the likes of Glen Johnson, Sol Campbell, Sylvain Distin and Peter Crouch in the side.

With those all gone, how could Pompey expect to do any better - unless they could somehow magic like-for-like replacements at bargain-basement prices?

Of course, we couldn't, and with less than 48 hours of the transfer window left, and Pompey four (lost) games into the season, we hadn't even brought in any unlike-for-like replacements.

Amazingly, we lured half a squad to Fratton in those final hours.

People moan about the quality, but what the hell did they expect? We had no money. We had to bring in cast-offs on free transfers (OK, someone needs to explain the Mike Williamson deal!) and loans.

They had a couple of days to suss out each others' play - and then they had to adhere to Hart's tactics.

It was no wonder we had such a torrid start to our final Premier League season.

The miracle is that - the first few games apart - we have played so well in the process.

We already have two more league wins than I expected us to have by Christmas, and while I'm not going to bemoan bad luck, few can argue that we have been the better team in many of our defeats.

And some of those no-hopers (including several that I cringed at when we signed them) have performed creditably - if not impressively - during these desperate times.

Piquionne has impressed me more often than not; Aruna Dindane likewise; Michael Brown started promisingly, although he falls into the category of most of our hard-working, but limited midfield grafters; and Tommy Smith has been a revelation.

While I understand why Hart elevated first Dindane and then Kanu ahead of him, Smith was by far our most outstanding player in the early games of toil and struggle. He is an intelligent, quick-thinking footballer who could still make it in the Premier League (though whether our new manager will think so remains to be seen).

I'm not at all surprised at Kevin-Prince Boateng's performances - unlike most of you. But I remain to be convinced that the painfully slow Jamie O'Hara brings much more than 100% effort and an exquisite corner and free-kick - again, unlike most of you.

But what has been evident since Hart assembled his very own squad (in very straitened circumstances) is a bunch of players giving their absolute all, their very, very best for the manager - and playing the most attractive football I've seen from the team for an age.

What I'm saying is that in all the circumstances - nearly all of which have not been of Paul Hart's making - we have performed creditably.

Instead of shutting their eyes and thinking that if they said it would be all right, it really would be all right, the fans should have been more realistic in their outlook, more measured in their expectation.

Then - like me - they would not be surprised at what has happened so far, and what will inevitably happen in the months ahead.

For Pompey, a triumph will be if the club is still in existence next season, not if it is playing in the Premier League.

For all my justified criticism of Hart last season, he has performed reasonably this term. Yes, he could have chosen more attacking formations, but they have largely performed with style and an incredible degree of confidence, given their plight.

His biggest failing has probably been his substitutions - both the timing and nature of them. And I do wonder whether his thick skin has enabled him to defy logic in his overlooking of the likes of Angelos Basinas.

But Hart leaves with Pompey in a poor position in terms of their league placing, but he does not leave a poor team.

The coming months will probably say more about that than the previous ones have.

Portsmouth Match Reports

Sky Bet League One Sat 18th November 15:00

Portsmouth 1 - 0 Southend United

Last game - Match Centre


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