If last Saturday’s FA Cup victory over Birmingham was a day full of passion, will and pure emotion, the league repeat was at the complete other end of the spectrum. With Premier League survival now a miracle away, is Tuesday’s lacklustre and tired display a sign of things to come for the remainder of the league campaign?
Realistically, Pompey’s season now resides on one – possibly two – games at Wembley. Everything in between is a procession, and while players and management will make all the right noises in their approach to games, the same will and endeavour that was on show for the FA Cup quarter-final simply cannot be repeated in games that matter so little. Avram Grant will talk of pride and professionalism as the inspiration when out on the pitch, but how far can this take you with the games so meaningless? Only time will tell, and Grant will have his hands full trying to motivate his players when fulfilling their league fixtures. Indeed, it must be said, it can swing the other way too. Just look at the Burnley win less than a fortnight ago, where the Blues played against a side weighed down by their perilous situation while Pompey rode in, bereft of any pressure whatsoever, and played loose, flowing football without worries of what a defeat would bring.
Tuesday night’s dire display did have one bright spark though. The familiar source came in the form of Jamie O’Hara, who at times seems to be carrying this Portsmouth side on his stocky shoulders. While the rest of the side looked so drained of energy, O’Hara was his usual determined and boundless self as he attempted to drag his side back into the contest. His delicious cross presented Kanu with that opportunity, but it was too little, too late. After the on-loan midfielder’s stunning campaign, especially since arriving back in January, it would be a real tragedy if he missed out on Wembley – where he would be ineligible if Tottenham beat Fulham to progress. If there’s one man who deserves his place in the show-piece event this term, it’s the mercurial O’Hara. Indeed he has been on the receiving end of some angry Tottenham fans after he stated he would like to see them beaten by Fulham in their FA Cup quarter-final replay, but who can blame him. He suffered penalty heartache on his last outing at Wembley, so he will be desperate to put it right with his adopted club.
Most on the south coast have spent the best part of two months barking out ringing endorsements of O’Hara’s form and he has cemented himself as a real terrace favourite. With Pompey certain to be plying their trade in the second tier next season, O’Hara looks unlikely to return after this summer. But his Fratton Park spell has been a meteoric success. The 23-year-old now has a full Premier League season under his belt and with it, plenty of new admirers. Indeed, if parent club Tottenham weren’t to have a spot him next campaign, there will be no shortage of takers in the league.
Somebody not held in quite such high regard at present is Kevin-Prince Boateng whose recent attitude has done little to endear himself to the fans and staff at Fratton Park. If O’Hara’s been Pompey’s star since for the second half of the season, Boateng was of similar status for the opening months. His quality and tenacity saw his popularity grow by each passing game as many wondered quite how he hadn’t made more of himself in his brief career. Disappointingly, this is now clear as for all his obvious ability with the ball at his feet, without it, he has all the attributes of a spoilt child. He spent much of January huffing and puffing his way around the pitch, cutting an increasingly frustrated figure and it all boiled over at Old Trafford as Boateng left the pitch in a sulk after picking up an ankle injury. From then on, Boateng has been in Germany getting treatment on his ankle while finding time to brandish the Pompey physios as “amateurish.” There were rumours that he had gone AWOL in Germany, but although these were firmly denied, he has plenty of making up to do when he makes his return – expected to be in around a month’s time. Just in time for the FA Cup semi-final – a day where if he were to deliver, all else would be safely forgotten.