Portsmouth were back in Premier League action on Tuesday after an enforced 27-day break, but the Blues could only manage a draw at home to relegation rivals West Ham, on a disappointing night at Fratton Park.
Indeed Avram Grant’s men were lucky to escape with a point after an error-strewn display which allowed the visitors to dominate. Grant ditched his favoured 4-5-1-cum-4-3-3 system for the midfield diamond as he sought to incorporate a front two following encouraging displays from forgotten man John Utaka. However, the midfield quartet was outplayed, out-passed and out-fought with Hayden Mullins, Aaron Mokoena and Angelos Basinas all having a night to forget. Pompey’s main creative influx had an off-night too, as Kevin-Prince Boateng struggled at the tip of the diamond. But the match-ups in the middle of the park were where the hosts surrendered control of the encounter. The aforementioned trio were shameless in possession and all three were made to look off the pace as Mark Noble and Valon Behrami hassled, tackled and drove their side on, totally overpowering their opposite numbers. It was the kind of fight and on-the-ball quality that Pompey’s midfield was so dearly lacking – a comparison that perhaps should have cost Portsmouth the game.
Nevertheless, it’s not all doom and gloom as the transfer embargo has been lifted and Tottenham’s Jamie O’Hara looks certain to return to Fratton Park on loan. And as Pompey fans sunk in their seats at the sight of Mullins, Mokoena and Basinas squandering possession so limply while tackling like scared schoolboys, they will feel much better at the thought of O’Hara’s welcome return. Indeed the Spurs midfielder offers all the qualities that were lacking on Tuesday night. He chases, tackles, drives on with the ball and can pick a pass – all of which go some way to setting his side’s tempo for the match. The importance of O’Hara has been a little understated throughout his time on the south coast. Many have picked up on his dead ball quality but although his deliveries from free-kicks and corners have been valuable – it’s his drive and quality around the pitch that has served Pompey so well. If O’Hara had been amongst the midfield in midweek, Noble and Behrami would have had a far less comfortable night.
But while O’Hara will be the first transfer target in Grant’s mind following the long overdue news of the lifted transfer ban, he will surely not be the last. With Pompey limited to just loan and free signings, Grant still has one hand tied behind his back, although the Israeli should be grateful it is just the one at this moment in time. With just half a week before the window slams shut – as well as a trip to Manchester to prepare for – Grant must work fast. Middlesbrough striker Mido has been sounded out, with the Egyptian hoping for a Premier League switch as soon as possible after an unsuccessful loan spell in his home country. Mido hasn’t won any awards for his professionalism throughout his time in England, but he is a proven goalscorer who has the class to turn a game with a stroke of his majestic left boot. And while Pompey scrape the barrel in terms of recruiting new players, that’ll be good enough for anyone around Fratton Park. If Grant secures Mido’s signature, it will be seen as something of a gamble and a coup at the same time.
There will certainly be plenty of rumours flying around in the coming days as Grant hopes to secure a few signings that could potentially save Pompey’s season, but the rumours won’t be restricted to incoming transfers. Younes Kaboul looks set to seal a move back to Tottenham this week with Harry Redknapp deciding to come back for the wallpaper and carpets in the summer. The big Frenchman will be a big loss for Grant and his side and with no reported targets lined up to replace the talismanic defender, Marc Wilson looks set to step into some rather big boots. Whether the 22-year-old has what it takes is still widely up for debate but he has shown promising signs. But for his nightmare night at Stamford Bridge, he has been mostly steady and although Kaboul is the more solid option, Pompey supporters have plenty of belief in their up and coming centre-back.
But as Grant attempts to pick up his flailing troops after Tuesday’s setback, he has his work cut out before the end of the week, as he not only tries to miraculously manoeuvre some transfer dealings but also pick up a return from their trip to Eastlands. Over to you Avram.