Radical Surgery Or A Few Nips & Tucks For Appleton's Army?

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

He’s only been in charge for a week or two – and we’ve played just the one game.

But already Michael Appleton is not looking so Appy – and is threatening a big shake-up.

By all accounts he was rightly appalled by Saturday’s showing against Watford and publicly criticised them after the game.

He’s now bringing in loan signings to try to reinforce a squad that suddenly he knows a lot more about than when he arrived.

But how fair is it to judge on one performance, albeit a dire one?

Many fans will argue it was a far from unusual performance: certainly, many first-halves this season have been awful, with slightly improved displays after half-time.

And the comprehensiveness of the defeat was probably matched pretty recently at Derby.

Even some of the club’s recent wins have featured poor patches of play, and many would argue the 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest in our last match at Fratton Park was a little flattering.

Others will point to the freakish early goal Pompey conceded at Vicarage Road and the adverse effect it will have had on confidence as players try to impress their new manager.

They will argue that some of Pompey’s better performers were off the pace on Saturday, and they will perhaps fear that the wrong players might be sacrificed as Appleton looks to make his mark.

Although I didn’t witness the game, and am therefore loath to criticise the performance, neither the result nor reported display surprised me.

Too often this season, under firstly Steve Cotterill and more recently Guy Whittingham and Stuart Gray, Pompey’s players have exposed the limitations of the squad, which – as I said before the season started – I believe is going to have its work cut out to remain in the division.

So what briefing should we be giving UnAppy as he looks to achieve a different outcome for the remainder of the year – and beyond?

These would be the notes on my clipboard:


Henderson – Still much to learn, and obviously still prone to errors, but has shored up the defence, matching Ashdown’s saves and markedly bettering his marshalling of the penalty area and those in front of him. Keep

Ashdown – An average ‘keeper doesn’t become a bad one overnight, but he has not matched last season’s best bits and has looked bereft of confidence this term. Keep as back-up until a better one comes along


Halford – Hasn’t reached the standards he achieved in the latter part of last season, and although one of Pompey’s more reliable performers, is still liable to potentially fatal lapses in concentration. Better as centre-back. Keep – but see Ben-Haim

Mokoena – Wasn’t good enough last year – or the year before. Nothing has changed, except he’s older. Doesn’t deserve the abuse he sometimes receives, but time to go, Aaron. Replace as soon as possible

Rocha – Our classiest defender, but so far failing to match previous seasons’ performances. Not even a guaranteed starter in my book. Keep

Pearce – An encouraging start to the first team, but sometimes appears to teeter under the immense pressure the defence often finds itself facing. May well benefit from a rest from the first team. Keep as a squad player

Ben-Haim – One of our best players this season, performing enthusiastically and positively in an unfamiliar position. May benefit from a switch to the right flank, which would free up Halford to play in the middle. Keep if financially viable, but switch to right

Hreidarsson – The reason Ben-Haim has been playing out of position. Our only recognised left-back, given that Pearce has not played there at this level and would undoubtedly limit attacking options. But is Hermann up to playing regularly at this level any more? Keep as back-up if fit enough

Ward – I’m sorry. It has to be said. Coming from Hampshire and being totally committed is not enough to make it at a Championship club. Ward is harder to knock off the ball nowadays, but his lack of pace and technical ability mean he is a liability – in any position. Ironically, was probably at his best at Palace, but not good enough. Offload


Lawrence – Don’t believe the rewritten history of last season. Lawrence hasn’t merited a place in the side since his first couple of months at Pompey. Has been unlucky with injuries, but – like Ward – his abysmal first touch and lack of pace (together with a dodgy, if recently improved, disciplinary record) render him a liability – a highly paid one at that. Cash in

Mullins – A journeyman who has found his level. Has been among Pompey’s better performers this season, but if Pompey have aspirations to progress, he should not be in the first team. Keep as squad player

Williams – Has had very limited chances to show his worth, but those who saw his pre-season performances seem to think he is worth a go. At least age and wages are on his side. Keep for the squad

Razak – The decision may be out of Appleton’s hands if Manchester City want him back, but has shown enough in cameos to suggest he could be a valuable asset for Pompey this season. Can play in a central or wide role. First-team must

Norris – Arrived highly recommended. But despite a handful of goals, has failed to live up to his billing. Is enthusiastic and committed, but fails to dominate, and seems to be caught between attacking and defensive stools. Sell if cash can be used to sign a better replacement

Huseklepp – Already a firm favourite, despite evident shortcomings that are not surprising in a youngster. Has the talent and confidence to frighten opponents, and has already contributed with goals and assists. Keep in first team


Varney – Seemed for much of the first few months of the season an inadequate replacement for David Nugent, but has impressed me in the last few games, in a more attacking role. Embarrasses some of his taller team-mates with his ability in the air, and usually shows excellent commitment. Keep in first team

Kitson – Probably the most fragile player in the squad. As soon as his performances waver or he misses a chance, the crowd are on his back again. Had a dodgy spell, but returned after injury to help provide the post-Cotterill impetus that briefly took Pompey away from the relegation zone. Still has much to offer, but presumably at a hefty financial cost. Keep for squad unless his sale funds a better replacement

Kanu – Should probably have been shipped out years ago, but still provides quality cameos that can prove useful in these days of 14-aside matches. Given that he appears to be on an unrealistically long contract, he has to stay. Retain for 20-minute cameos

FutacsIs rubbish, according to those fans in the know. I’ve seen only glimpses of him, and while he looked lost in the first of those, he was one of the better performers in the second substitute appearance that I witnessed. Surely worth a go as back-up

Benjani Mwaruwari - One of my favourite all-time Pompey players – and not for the sentimental reasons that many fans tend to cite. At his best, he was a true asset at Premier League level. Unfortunately, he is no longer anywhere near that. Offload and replace

So, if Mr A was to take even the slightest notice of that – and accepting that he is not going to be able to bring in many new signings for a while - his side to face Leicester on Saturday (subject to any interim loan signings he is able to make) might look like this:


Ben-Haim – Halford – Rocha – Hreidarsson

Williams – Mullins - Razak – Huseklepp

Kitson – Varney

A 4-3-3 option would be:


Ben-Haim – Halford – Rocha – Hreidarsson

Williams – Mullins – Norris

Razak – Varney – Huseklepp

If Hreidarsson still isn’t fit, Ben-Haim could stay at left-back and Mokoena return to right-back for the time-being... which goes to show how paltry Pompey’s resources are.