They say luck evens itself out over a season. Well, if that’s the case, Avram Grant is currently using up all the luck his predecessor Paul Hart had accrued after a torridly unlucky start to the season under the former Nottingham Forest boss’ stewardship.
Indeed Hart must be sat at home laughing – or crying – as Grant’s life at Pompey continues to churn out inept displays far away from Pompey’s showings under Hart, yet picking up a great deal more points. The horror first half showing at the Stadium of Light had Pompey fans planning their trips to the likes Bloomfield Road and Selhurst Park for next season, but an improved second half and the steal of a vital point at the death put pay to that – for now. But as Younes Kaboul’s scrambled equaliser sent Blues fans into near delirium, the fact that their manager continues to begin matches with seemingly ridiculous tactics, meant the Frenchman’s effort only papered over the ever-increasing cracks.
When Grant’s teamsheet went public on Saturday afternoon, there would’ve been few disagreements amongst fans, although the sidelined Kevin-Prince Boeteng was a major blow. Indeed, the line-up read as a positive 4-4-2 system with Kanu given his chance to show what he can do alongside the much-maligned Aruna Dindane. Instead, Dindane spent the first half looking like a lost child on the left of midfield while Hassan Yebda must have spent his first half catching up on some Christmas shopping in the north-east – as he was totally anonymous. Sunderland’s 4-4-2 formation was made to look more like a 4-2-4 as the visitors were pushed deeper and deeper into their own half, leaving Kanu totally isolated.
It left Pompey trudging in at half-time, cold, miserable and in dire need of a change. Credit must go to Grant for changing instantly to a 4-4-2 for the second half, but in truth it could have been all too late. Had Sunderland stepped it up a gear and really put Pompey to the sword, the game could well have already been gone. It was a similar tale last week against Burnley when Grant got his tactics wrong initially, only to rescue the situation at the interval. The saviour was former manager, Hart’s favoured system that came to the Southerners aid as the limited diamond formation transformed Pompey into a much better side, although still perennially lacking in any kind of cutting edge. Being robbed of Boateng was a huge blow and it meant Pompey missed their main/only creative force. And although Jamie O’Hara’s drive and determination gave Grant’s men a decent option, the lack of creativity and genuine quality was clear without Boateng, who worryingly leaves for the African Cup of Nations at the end of the month.
But while there were many negatives to take from the game, there was one important positive, and when all’s done and dusted, that’s all that matters. It has to go down as a superb point against opposition who are so strong at home and have beaten the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal already this term. The fact that Wolves grabbed a surprise win at Tottenham did dampen the day somewhat as it meant the Blues fell further away from safety. Grant’s next task is a trip to former club Chelsea on Wednesday which presents an almost impossible task. Indeed eyes will be fixed more on the goings-on at the Reebok Stadium on Tuesday as the Trotters scrap it out with fellow relegation candidates West Ham.
One thing is for sure, if Pompey are to come away from Stamford Bridge with anything, they’re going to need all of the luck Hart seems to have banked for his former club. Grant’s response to his apparent fortune? “If John Terry had scored that penalty, maybe I would agree that I am a lucky manager!” Be it luck or better judgement, Grant has certainly brought something to the team that Hart didn’t. A manager is judged on his results and there can be little doubt that the Israeli has fared better on that front, albeit severely lagging behind in terms of the quality of performances. If Wednesday night is going to be any kind of success, Grant must get more from his men and he must get his tactics right from the start, otherwise the game will be up before it’s begun. Plus, a bit of luck wouldn’t go amiss.