Reality Check

By Jim Bonner
Last updated : 29 September 2006

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.

I'm still coming to terms with having to press the Hold button on my remote control when the first half of page 324 comes round on Ceefax rather than the second.

It's been an amazing ride on the Fratton Park rollercoaster over the first month of the season – and I'm enjoying every minute of it.

One of the most encouraging aspects of Pompey's great start is that they've achieved it with little or no contribution from any of their deadline-week transfers – the ones that completed a close season of deals that had me purring with optimism (and believe me, that's some achievement).

The fact that Andy Cole, Niko Kranjcar and Roudolphe Douala have yet to kick a ball for Pompey in the Premiership, and that Manuel Fernandes has had time for only a short-lived but exciting cameo is excellent news, and an incredible bonus.

I believed they were the people who would form the core of the new-look Pompey as they bid to secure a mid-table place, with many of our longer-serving players fulfilling vital back-up roles.

But here we are more than a month into the season and we're sitting pretty in a Champions League place, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United.

Of course (and this is where you start to understand why optimism is not my middle name when it comes to Pompey), there is a down side to this joyful start.

That indescribable thing called expectation starts to creep insidiously into the average Pompey fan's subconscious, and suddenly you find yourself expecting to beat Spurs away, or incredibly (given our recent record against them), Charlton anywhere!

It's a fine line between confidence and expectation. If the players aren't confident after their start, they probably never will be.

But I've noticed Harry still uttering the odd phrase designed to keep everyone's feet on the ground… and I don't think it's aimed just at the players.

As I've mentioned before, on the other side of the mountain of expectation is a very big drop – and suddenly a failure to win matches we'd have been pleased to draw last season can create an air of failure which in turn can breed dissatisfaction and frustration.

And if that finds its way on to the pitch, suddenly we could see our new heroes' confidence draining away.

So in that respect, our defeat to Bolton could well prove a blessing in disguise. I know a lot of you have a sneaking respect for Big Sam's Big Army of dead-ball merchants, but to my mind defeat at home to Bolton represents a return to Earth with a bump.

And that may not be a bad thing.

For a start, it ends those darned records which we're all so unused to that they were bound to turn into millstones: no longer unbeaten; no longer still to concede a goal. No longer top of the Premiership.

It also provides a reality check, just in case any of the players had failed to heed Harry's warnings. We're good – but not yet the full deal.

And of course it gives the manager the opportunity to tweak the side without tempting fate and the wrath of all of us told-you-sos when the changes fail to pay off.

I have to say, I've enjoyed every minute of our spectacular start, but I've not been convinced that we're world beaters.

I watched us play well – and attractively – and thrash Blackburn; I saw us show excellent resilience to fend off a spirited display by Wigan – and leave with maybe two points more than our performance deserved; and I watched us shrug off our habit of turning positive performances and one-goal leads against Charlton into unlucky defeats.

Maybe our failure to convert chances against Kevin Davies and co will give Harry licence to make the changes that might actually even raise our performances and results a notch.

A month ago I mentioned how Gary O'Neil should be one of the first names on the teamsheet – and I still subscribe to that view.

However, everyone goes through poor patches, and while he's never given less than 100%, I know I'm not alone in noticing that he has failed to achieve the excellent standards he has set for himself this season.

In the past, that would have meant gritting our teeth as we watched him play through his bad patch, weakening the team in the meantime.

Now it should mean that we take advantage of our substantially improved resources, particularly in midfield, to maintain or even improve standards.

Yes, I'm thinking the unthinkable. Perhaps Gary O'Neil should be dropped temporarily in favour with one of our new talents who are raring to go.

Maybe he shouldn't. It's not clear-cut, and he may turn in a bravura performance against Spurs or West Ham.

The point is, we can change things if we want to.

Likewise up front, where nobody can fault Kanu's contribution – and certainly not Mwaruwari's.

But two goals in our last three games after the seven in the first three suggest not everything is clicking yet in the forward line.

Maybe Andy Cole is the man to capitalise on our dynamic approach play and the extraordinarily hard-working and deceptively astute performances of Benjani.

There are other candidates, too. And really that is the point. We may switch things around. We may not. But we can – and it probably wouldn't weaken us.

Who knows where the season is going to take us, but isn't it an enjoyable journey?

From Gario to Dario

Dario Silva's horrific car accident and injuries are yet another reminder to keep things like football in perspective.

Memories of Aaron Flahavan's partner poignantly laying flowers in the Fratton goalmouth days after his death in a car crash are still clear in my mind.

So the initial news of Silva's fight for life filled me with sorrow and deep concern. Mercifully, he survived, but at a terrible price, particularly for a sportsman.

Dario Silva didn't quite make it at Pompey, but I considered him a very good striker, who could outjump defenders six inches taller than him, and who always gave everything to the Pompey cause, chasing and harrying in much the way that Mwaruwari does now.

But without the luxury of quality ball – and very often on his own up front.

I wish him the all the very best for the future, as I've noticed many of you have, too, via the message board.

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