A topsy-turvy five days which started with a club-saving win in the High Court, followed by an insipid opening day league defeat, culminated in a morale-boosting win at League 2 Stevenage, leaving Steve Cotterill a full four days to boost his numbers before their next outing.
Now there were plenty of things wrong with Pompey on Saturday as they visited the Ricoh Arena – the familiar tale of a costly mistake coupled with a blatant absence of any midfield creativity, the two main woes – but the lack of genuine numbers can take most of the flack. Just four players were named on the bench, none of which had any first team experience, in addition to a number of players playing out of position. The fact Matt Ritchie and Hayden Mullins, both midfielders by trade, occupied the full-back slots said it all, as although Cotterill still has quality players to call upon, the general patching up of his side, and the lack of options leaves the team playing with their hands tied behind their backs. As the side grew ever more lacklustre and blunt as the game wore on, an impact substitute of any kind was what they were crying out for as they attempted to cause a solid Sky Blues backline a problem or two.
Cotterill must have been desperate to haul off one of his three defensive minded midfielders for a more attacking, creative option, in order to get back into the game. But the destructive pair of Richard Hughes and Michael Brown saw most of the game out despite tamely knocking the ball sideways the entire game. Marc Wilson, a major bright spot in both games, was forced to hit Quarterback type passes to the wingers as he had no-one looking to get ahead of him and get on the ball. The young Irishman could well be Pompey’s key man this campaign, with his sure-footedness on the ball, superb array of passes and his ability to dictate a game in his midfield anchor role. There is sure to be some Premier League interest this month – West Brom are already rumoured – so Cotterill will have his hands full keeping the youngster, perhaps part of the reason he made him his captain.
The next few weeks are sure to shape the south coast club’s season, as transfer activity will finally get going. Kevin-Prince Boateng is reportedly on his way to Genoa, while John Utaka will be offloaded if, and when, possible. Utaka, dubbed ‘Uslaka’ by Pompey fans, found himself booed off on Saturday as he turned in a disinterested display that will do little to draw any potential suitors in. Ever the frustrating winger, Utaka once again delivered the kind of lazy, lethargic and downright exasperating showing Pompey fans have grown far too accustomed too. Whenever, the Nigerian is handed a start in the Blue of Pompey, there is always a feeling of ‘maybe this will be the day he comes good’ – a feeling which is always followed by infuriating annoyance. The man signed for £7m from Rennes just three years ago looks destined to flounder and skulk out of the Fratton Park exit door as soon as a club takes on what they deem a fruitful gamble.
But while Utaka heads for the exit door, the entrance door should be reasonably active in the ensuing weeks. Cotterill needs reinforcements, and fast. The club’s endeavours in the transfer market this month could be the difference between a relegation scrap and a potential place in the play-offs. There’s still quality in this side, but it needs to be supplemented. If the lack of quantity continues to force Cotterill’s hand throughout the season, it will be long and difficult one. But five or six players who can ‘do a job’ in the Championship to allow the likes of Marc Wilson, Tommy Smith, Aaron Mokoena, Michael Brown and David Nugent to show their quality will have Pompey heading in the right direction. The off-field problems are showing signs of calming slightly, so now is the time for new blood to take the club forward. Cotterill may be working on a shoe-string budget, but there are still decent free transfers out there, and the former Burnley boss’ large contact list will surely heed some loan signings. It is a difficult task, but one that is the key to ambitions for the next nine months.