“We created many chances against United. This is positive if we continue like this, things will improve.” No, Paul Hart has not made a dramatic return since his sacking last week, it seems Avram Grant can only muster a good (first half) performance, that yields only frustration and plenty of ‘if only’s’, but no points – much like his predecessor.
Part of the problem is that Aruna Dindane is still the man being relied upon to net the goals, which he clearly cannot do. The Ivory Coast striker could well have walked off with a first half hat-trick after Pompey had outplayed the champions in a sterling opening 45 minutes. But as Grant concluded after the game: “When you create and miss chances against United it costs you.” And it’s a story that has cost Pompey so dear already this season under Hart, and while the club’s strikers continue to miss guilt-edged chance after chance, it is something that will come back and haunt the Blues come May.
What is most frustrating for Pompey fans is that Dindane was excellent on Saturday. His first half display was truly menacing as he ran Nemanja Vidic ragged at the heart of Manchester United’s defence. But while all his industry and threatening work is top notch, it counts for very little if he can’t finish his good work off by sticking the ball in the back of the net. His strike partner Frederic Piquionne was much the same as his all-action display caused United’s backline a few problems in the first period, but again, his actual threat to their goal was minimal. If Pompey are going to stay up this season – and the performances mean there is still some hope amongst the Fratton faithful – they need a striker who knows where the goal is.
However, when all is said and done, it will not be games against the ‘big four’ that ultimately define Pompey’s outcome this campaign, although games are fast running out. On the face of it, 4-1 looks like a bit of a hammering, but even the most hardened United fan would admit they were pushed much closer than the scoreline suggests. Indeed, if Pompey had taken a deserved lead into the half-time break, or Piquionne hadn’t had such a ridiculous few seconds that put the game out of sight, Sir Alex Ferguson could’ve been counting the loss of some vital points. But it wasn’t to be for Pompey, and Grant must be furious at the manner in which his threw away such soft goals. Michael Brown’s silly dangling leg – plus a sudden gust of wind – was enough to send Wayne Rooney crashing in the penalty box, and the way the midfield stood and watched Michael Carrick chip the ball over the disorganised backline, would’ve left Grant seething. Piquionne’s moment of utter stupidity was the icing on the cake and all of Pompey’s fine play in the first 45 was totally undone through two sloppy moments.
It all leaves Grant with plenty to think about. If the Israeli didn’t already know what a hugely difficult task he faced – he does now. The visit of Burnley next week is massive. Some would say it’s a little early to be calling games must win, but with the club now seven points off the sanctity of 17th place, the visit of a newly promoted side – who are struggling on their travels – needs a maximum return. With Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea all to come later this month, Grant will be looking to hit the New Year with the damage limited as much as possible. If Pompey are still seven points adrift by January 1, then that should be seen as a good result.
Grant has already made it clear he wishes to strengthen in January, and it sounds like the Israeli has more pulling power over the new owner than Hart, as he claims he has spoke to Ali al-Faraj who has promised to invest in the January transfer window. Whether wholesale changes are needed is up for debate, but Grant’s wide range of contacts and knowledge will be stretched to the maximum, as he bids to find a clinical striker that can shoot the team back up the table to safety.