Pompey's need for Organic Growth
Steve Cotterill has, on the face of it, built a formidable combination, one that until recently enjoyed a stretch of only 1 defeat in 10 without conceding and that is stuffed to the gills with experienced personnel. But the whiff of the infamous “Cotterball” has never been far away. Gone are the midfield promptings of Lassana Diarra, the unruffled elegance of Sylvain Distin and the darting opportunism of Jermain Defoe, replaced by a far more pragmatic and prosaic blend.
They couldn’t really afford those guys of course but if the current combo haven’t quite attained the top-top rate of tax bracket, a good number of very wealthy men were gracing the Madejski turf today.
Most significant of all would be Ricardo Rocha, a major factor in the team’s late play off push. He received his marching orders before half time today, unable to read a peach of a Brian Howard through ball and tumbling into Reading’s red hot reducer Shane Long. Until then, his poise had provided a launchpad for Pompey to more than share the initial bragging rights, even if the Irishman had recently put the Royals ahead.
Beside him, the aforementioned Halford was playing out of position at centre half. Those distant days as a roving goalscoring midfielder for Colchester seem long forgotten now and if he defines the term “big unit”, his hot headedness here was often apparent and his lack of basic technique a reminder of his earlier jettisoning from the Mad Stad by Steve Coppell.
In a game featuring three Icelandic veterans, the still lithe Hermann Hreiðarsson coped well with the pace of Jimmy Kébé on the left and Manchester United kid Ritchie De Laet looks a terrific prospect on the right – the Belgian’s pace seemed to intimidate Jobi McAnuff from taking on his man, even if his lookalike and managerial namesake David Cotterill had an undistinguished first half ahead of him – the Swansea-owned winger was sacrificed after the team went down to ten.
Pompey lined up with a 4-5-1 formation and the younger Cotterill’s counterpart on the left was that one time misfire of a signing of Harry Redknapp’s and Knight of the Order of Andorra, David Nugent. Inexplicably not booked for a petulant hoof into the crowd, it’s been downhill for him since his Preston days and that £6 million fee must still make Portsmouth fans weep. The talent appears to be there but he was far too intent on arguing with the referee to make any proper impact.
The three man central midfield featured the club’s most consistent player this season, Liam Lawrence; another of the mardy brigade, but ever busy – he looked a threat every time he came upon the ball, curling dangerous crosses into the area and providing the creativity to offset the holding play of Reading born Hayden Mullins and Jonathan Hogg, on loan from the Villa, and one of six squad members temporarily hired from other clubs.
That leaves two other former Reading players to assess. In goal, Jamie Ashdown takes no blame for the defeat but Dave Kitson enjoyed one of those fateful afternoons that seem written in the stars – much like that of the Liverpool squad tumbling to defeat at the hands of Roy Hodgson a hundred or so miles away. He missed a header from a position of splendid isolation in the first few minutes and even contrived to block a goalbound effort from a team mate in the second period.
Portsmouth still have a lot of very accomplished players on their books and this, as well as the exploitation of the loan system, would seem to confirm my earlier diagnosis that they are gambling on getting up this year to keep the money flowing – but promotion chances will considerably dim with this setback and it’s essential for the club’s long term health that the likes of Tom Kilbey and Joel Ward (introduced late to the action here) are given their chance from now on – for given the still uncertain financial climate around Fratton, growth from hereon in needs to be organic.