Second Impressions

We’re halfway through the season now, and it’s pretty clear what sort of climax we’re facing.

Survival in League One would be a miracle; survival as a club not far behind.

I’ve declined to pass too much public comment on Pompey’s off-the-field position because I’ve never felt sufficiently confident of what the true situation is.

It does appear that survival rests with the Pompey Trust. And if that’s the case, I remain as sceptical now as I did when the hard-working founders of the group first publicly mooted the possibility of taking the club over and running it themselves.

But on matters on the field I feel a bit more equipped to comment – and certainly as justified in passing my opinions as the next fan.

And speaking of fans, there’s more on that in the second half of this article – if you can bear to look.

I made an early fist of assessing Pompey’s playing squad back in September. It was indeed early days, and I probably enjoyed average success with my comments.

Certainly, my reservations about Brian HowardJon HarleyIzale McLeod and Jordan Obita seemed justified – although I believe the treatment of McLeod by some of the fans (and media) has been over the top, considering his goalscoring record in such a struggling team.

More on that below.

My enthusiasm for Kevin LongJack Compton and Darrel Russell now seems over-generous.

But I don’t think I was too far off the mark with my admiration for Mustapha Dumbuya’s start and the promise of Liam WalkerAshley Harris and Adam Webster.

Lee Williamson may well have proved a valuable asset had he had more chances to play in his favoured central midfield, where he was more influential and where his lack of pace was less exposed.

And I still remain unconvinced by Russell’s contribution, though I wish him luck in his mission to find a club where he will win meaningful trophies.

Because he will need it.

Plenty of positives

Now, of course, Pompey have another new squad, another new team.

It’s like starting the season all over again. Except for the fact that we are in a hopeless position, with the prospect of a 10-point deduction still hanging over us.

But a new season is how I choose to look at it. Saturday’s game against Hartlepool was, for me, the first game of the new season.

And I seem to be in a very small minority in spotting plenty of positives in it.

I didn’t object to the 3-5-2 formation tried by Guy Whittingham, and to a certain extent I believe he was let down by players he probably felt he could rely on in that back three.

He must take a share of the blame for playing Johnny Ertl – who has been a rare bright spot in midfield – in a defensive role where he has yet to impress.

And yes, Adam Reed has probably never played wing-back before in his life, but the lad is supposed to be adaptable, with a good “engine”, so it was a reasonable experiment.

Dan Butler looked fairly comfortable in a similar role on the other flank, and the performances of Jed Wallace and David Connolly were inspiring.

The bunch of teenagers and debutants, alongside a handful of players who had endured the torrid first half to the season were hardly likely to click on their first outing together.

But there were signs enough of the sort of endeavour and positivity that Pompey will need just to avoid humiliation by the time the final league tables of the season are published.

What did shock me about Saturday (though perhaps it shouldn’t after certain incidents in other home games in the past couple of months) was the very low tolerance threshold displayed by some fans.

I’ve never been as taken in by the legend of how wonderful Pompey’s fans are as some have.

They turn up in decent numbers (though not the mythical highs a stranger might be led to believe), and the away support is exceptional, given our hopeless position.

Unconditional devotion

But even before the Fratton End Faithful decided to turn to songs of hopelessness a few games back (We Lose Every Week; We’re All Going On A League Two Tour, etc) – which must go down a bomb with the players - the singing element seemed far more preoccupied with how well or how much the opposition fans sang than with the performance and progress of the players.

Singing songs, making a noise and doing improvised congas in the middle of matches might gain kudos among some, but it’s not a measure of great support.

That comes with the unconditional devotion, wit and ingenuity exemplified by what was probably the zenith of Pompey’s support – back in 2004 when a novice Premiership Pompey were thrashed 5-1 by Arsenal in an FA Cup quarter-final.

The fans never stopped backing the players, pronounced we were going to win 6-5 and gave Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira the sort of respect for their reputations and performances that even the Arsenal fans of the day would have struggled to provide.

Or in the dark days of Paul Hart and Avram Grant, as a spirited Pompey struggled to get to grips with the sudden demolition of a brilliant squad as the misdeeds of certain elements of the club began to unravel.

Before Saturday, Pompey fans had booed the team off at half-time in both their previous league fixtures, and for weeks before that some had pounced on errors committed by players light-years away from the personnel they had become so used to watching during the previous decade.

What is the point? I know many hid behind claims that the new Pompey were not committed – something I’m not totally convinced of.

But the fact is, Pompey have neither the resources nor the right to field players with the talent and commitment needed to pull them out of their current mire.

The club is paying the price for over-indulgence and mismanagement on a horrendous scale – a mismanagement that affected not only Portsmouth Football Club but many others, as well as organisations and businesses with which Pompey were not even in competition.

In fact, people who were merely providing services to the club without receiving their dues.

No. For some fans, the worm has turned. They pay their money (which is especially admirable in the current circumstances), so they have the right to lambast the players.

Even though the club can only afford – nay, can only attract – the calibre of player who is prone to make more mistakes than we are used to seeing.

Wonder fans

The vitriol directed at McLeod when he went to take a penalty in front of the Fratton End after missing one at the other end earlier in the match against Leyton Orient was shameful.

Talk about self-fulfilling prophesies. What must that have done to the confidence of Pompey’s top-scorer as he prepared for the nerve-wracking task of putting right his error of the first half?

Who would have taken the blame if that had not gone in?

The fact that McLeod was brazen enough to take it but man enough to score despite the Pompey fans failed to make any impression on those who hounded him for the rest of his stay at the club.

And so to Saturday. 

Tuts and groans went around the ground on many occasions when players misplaced passes, mis-kicked or plain missed the ball.

They were all errors where criticism could be justified. But among those getting the bird were Reed, Butler and even Wallace, who had an impressive game overall.

All youngsters. All trying to be men in a tough, physical division where their enthusiasm and youthful confidence are likely to be valuable weapons in Pompey’s attempts to produce a respectable end to an inevitably dismal season.

Admittedly, it was a minority of fans. But enough for the sighs and groans to be heard in different parts of the ground.

Every fan has the right to moan. At the ground, if they really want to.

But failing to take into account how far Pompey have fallen or the effect the collective atmosphere is likely to have on these players…

Up to you, but don’t expect anyone else to continue to believe this legendary wonder-fans nonsense.