COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
For 20 minutes I thought we did ok and nothing more as goalmouth action at either end was at a premium. Pienaar took a sore one in the back from the massive Kahbul and the back-four had to improvise to counter Pompey ariel pressure.
It was now becoming clear we were very light in midfield as too many balls were getting into the back-four which was giving Pompey confidence. Try as I could, I could not quite figure out what Fellaini's role was as he spent so much time up with Saha and Jo leaving Osman and Pienaar to variously play the creative role with Neville mopping up. Osman and Pienaar may have many good qualities and both bring something to the team but centre-mid strength and dominance just isn't one of them.
The equalizer on 20 minutes was the result of unrelieved pressure that saw Pompey gain a corner and then just bad defending firstly failed to complete a clearance and when the ball was returned in our defenders tried to out-head much taller men instead of the more savvy blocking runs mode and both provider Johnson and scorer Crouch easily out-jumped their marker and we were all square.
The rest of the half went much the same way with the manager trying all manner of reshuffles to try to get some control in mid-field and Jo making a horrible mess of a shot when well-placed. You could almost hear the manager yell 'At least hit the target lad'.
Half-time and with very little room for manouver from the creche, I was hoping for a resolute defence and a touch of magic from one of our more skillful players to see us through. Sadly it was Pompey again who pressed us back, early on Crouch put a tame header at Howard when well placed. The Pompey midfield now ruled and but for stirling work from the excellent Neville we could have been comletely over-run.
Crouch put Nugent through one-on-one but Howard was quickly out to block his shot for a throw-in with his legs. Jacobsen on his debut was doing ok but is no Hibbert when it comes to defending in the Prem and I could see the manager's reasoning in playing Jags right-back whilst Hibbert recovers.
Pompey pressed, we repelled them the best we could and I wondered if we could once again snatch an unlikely one at the death... but it wasn't to be as on 75 mins a regulation corner saw Crouch run on to it, rise highest and net, again no-one tried to block his run and with his height advantage it proved very costly.
Pompey still had time to hit a post with Howard beaten before running down the clock. Right at the end, Jo went off injured and replaced with Rodwell and then Gosling was given a few minutes in place of Jacobsen but the changes the manager had at his disposal were cosmetic because of our very small squad — the wrong players were out injured.
With the manager saying he needs money to progress us and the chairman saying that the way the club is structured they don't have the money required, then these sort of games may become the norm. With all fit, we are a match for anyone, and can gain points... but with injuries in key positions, without natural cover, we will stuggle.
Today I thought only three players played with class and consistancy over the piece: Lescott, Baines and my Man of the Match, Neville. Today wasn't a day for having a go at individuals as the teams plight is the club's plight.
We have two weeks now to lick our wounds and hope for good news from the treatment table... UP THE BLUES
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