Granted its only three games in, but the Championship table will be a difficult read for Portsmouth fans right now. Their team are not only winless, but have registered just a single goal in their three encounters thus far.
If Pompey’s lack of firepower had reared its ugly head in the opening two fixtures, it was there for all to see on Saturday as Steve Cotterill’s men could barely muster a decent chance in a chastening and desperate 90 minutes versus Preston North End. This against a side that were pointless prior to the game, as well as being rooted the bottom of the league, their manager under intense pressure, and having leaked six goals in their opening two outings. Many are tipping Preston to struggle this term, so the fact they well and truly outplayed and outclassed a beleaguered Pompey team will have set many an alarm bell ringing at Fratton Park. This writer has been quick to point out the ability possessed by both David Nugent and Tommy Smith, who at Championship level, could, and should be a terrific prospect. But their impact in any of the opening games has been minimal to say the least. Starved of service from their midfielders, the pair has been reduced to chasing lost causes and hopeful long balls.
If Cotterill wants to get the best out of either man, he needs a supply line. Marc Wilson has the quality to pick each forward out, but he sits too deep to really link up with either player. So Richard Hughes and Michael Brown are left to burrow forward and feed the forwards – something they are altogether inept at doing. That is not to say either are bad players, but the balance of the midfield is wrong. The Hughes and Brown pairing is purely a destructive one – something they do effectively – but neither have the quality to start attacks or to put the forwards in promising positions. It leaves Pompey in an altogether toothless state, with their attacks slow and mundane. Money is tight and potential transfer targets slim pickings, but if Pompey want to do well in this league, or indeed stay in it, they need a more creative and attack-minded midfielder.
Unfortunately for Cotterill, he does not even have a sturdy defence to call upon either. The summer transfers of Ibrahima Sonko and Carl Dickinson have done little to impress since arriving – with Sonko’s mis-kick resulting in Preston’s winner. He may be uncompromising and athletic, but his general footballing ability is poor – even for an out-and-out defender at this level. At least the performance of Jamie Ashdown in goal will have given Cotterill something to smile about. The former Reading man has looked far from his best since taking over as the club’s No 1 this term, often looking unconfident and hesitant with his decision making. However, on Saturday he proved that with more and more match-time, his performances would improve drastically. Indeed, Pompey have Ashdown to thank for keeping the score respectable.
It is now down to Cotterill to move fast and secure some signings. Deals for Ricardo Rocha and Anthony Vanden Borre have fallen through, and the Pompey boss’ interviews seem ever more frustrated. He decided to pull the plug on the Rocha deal, with the Portuguese waiting far too long to make a decision, while Vanden Borre decided it would be a step in the wrong direction for him personally. Both would have been excellent additions, in vital positions too, so one could see why Cotterill’s disappointment would be so evident. With next week marking the end of the transfer window, Premier League clubs may well have to start shipping some loanees out in order to make room in their 25-man squads. Perhaps Pompey could benefit from this, pouncing on some top flight rejects. Youngsters who fail to make their respective team’s squad will be looking for some football somewhere too, and their hunger and flair could be the boost the side are looking for. But it is the waiting game for now, as Pompey fans know they cannot keep the small and limited squad they have at present for too much longer – or the season really could have a terrible end.