“Bad news Jeff, both teams did come out for the second half.” chirped a broken Phil Thompson, after enduring a horrific first 45 at the KC Stadium. Unfortunately for the Sky Sports resident Scouser, the second half was of little improvement as Portsmouth gained just their second points score of the season. In retrospect, as Pompey sit rock bottom at present, any point is a point gained. However, in a match void of any quality whatsoever, Paul Hart’s men did have two very good chances, yet were again let down by poor finishing. Aruna Dindane was once more the culprit as he smashed the game’s best chance straight at Boaz Myhill from 12 yards, while Hassan Yebda couldn’t quite get the contact required to tap the ball home after Kevin-Prince Boateng’s centre.
This worrying trend continues to haunt Pompey as their goals return of five from 10 stinks of a side destined for the drop. Even more frustrating is the fact Dindane continues to impress in every other aspect but the scoring part. Indeed, the Ivorian was the best player on the pitch against Hull and he deserved to cap his stellar display with a goal. However, he and Tommy Smith were again shortcoming with any firepower. Hart continues to back his misfiring duo – and he has plenty of reasons to do so – but there is only so long strikers can go without scoring, despite their good work in other areas. Not since May last season has a single Pompey striker registered in the league, that being the much-maligned John Utaka – now seemingly all but out of Hart’s plans.
In fairness to the front men, they lacked any real service on Saturday as the midfield had a real off-day. The impressive duo of Boateng and Jamie O’Hara didn’t reach the expected standard while Yebda looked a tad jaded. The other in the midfield quartet was Aaron Mokeona. In last week’s Club Focus , it was mentioned that the South African wasn’t adept to playing the holding role, with O’Hara considered the better choice. Hart obviously thought the same as O’Hara was again handed the holding role, but with Michael Brown suspended on Saturday, Mokoena kept his place in the side – on the left side of the diamond. Now this writer is no fan of the former Blackburn man but there was a great deal of sympathy for Pompey’s captain as his limited abilities were put to the test as he was asked to provide the width on the left as well as join in with the attacking moves. Needless to say, it didn’t go well. His passing was nothing short of abysmal and he, along with O’Hara and Yebda failed to retain any kind of possession or structure in the midfield. It all looked unbalanced and disjointed and all three struggled throughout.
Part of Hart’s problems lie in the lack of width the diamond formation offers. Neither Mokoena or Yebda are particularly capable of providing width and with Tal Ben-Haim and Steve Finnan in the full-back slots also short of attacking quality, it leaves Pompey desperately short of options when attacking. Indeed its a Catch 22 situation for Hart, as Ben-Haim and Finnan are solid, experienced defenders who have given the Pompey back-line a great deal of security in recent weeks. However, the diamond midfield requires attacking full-backs – just look how Chelsea make it work – but Hart just doesn’t have the options to do it. Prior to Ben-Ham and Finnan’s arrival, Nadir Belhadj and Anthony Vanden Borre were the two regular full-backs, who despite offering far greater width and support, were unashamedly costly at the back. A continuing headache for Hart.
But while the attack was largely impotent, the defence continues to improve. Marc Wilson was a stand out performer against the Tigers while Younes Kaboul has looked solid. Hart knows clean sheets are important in any situation, but as Pompey falter in front of goal, it is imperative goals are not shipped at the other end. It’s Wigan up next for Hart and his battling side and despite admitting his team’s performance at Hull was the worst for a month, belief is still reasonably high on the South Coast. The game on Humberside was a forgettable, languid affair – one which Hart – and Phil Brown for that matter – couldn’t bare losing. Whether it turns out to be a point gained or two points dropped, only time will tell. Pompey do have a slight Premier League respite this week as Stoke are welcomed to Fratton Park in the Carling Cup fourth round. Expect wholesale changes – mainly due to many players being Cup tied – as well as the predictable resting of first-team regulars. However, it’s a decent chance of getting into the latter stages of the competition and Hart knows only too well how a good cup run can lift spirits in the long, dark basement battle in the league.