It took six months, 12 games and a whole host of chances, but when a Portsmouth striker did finally find the net, it unleashed a flurry of frustration as both Aruna Dindane and Frederic Piquionne put Wigan to the sword on Saturday. It’s been a long wait for all parties – the fans, the manager and the players themselves – but after turning over a weakened Stoke line-up in midweek, there was a feeling the front men would finally turn that into Premier League goals – and points. And when Dindane burst through on goal on 35 minutes, before exquisitely dinking the ball over the on-rushing Chris Kirkland, that feeling was now reality and not only did it visibly lift a tonne of weight off the Ivorian’s shoulders, it seemed to relax the team as a whole.
Dindane’s opener was met more with a sigh of relief than anything else, as Pompey’s early pressure threatened to remain just that – pressure. But just as the Latics seemed to have ridden the early storm, Michael Brown won the ball in midfield before sliding the alert Dindane through to finish expertly. It was a new feeling for Paul Hart and his side, who have yet to take the lead in any league game at home this campaign, and it only went to prove further just how important that first goal, especially when rooted to the bottom of the table. Dindane’s strike flattened any frustration inside Fratton Park and the crowd’s relief and joy clearly transmitted to the players. In particular, Dindane and Piquionne looked full of confidence as the game wore on. Piquionne has been firing on all cylinders in the Carling Cup and in the reserves but his goal on the stroke of half-time was his first in the league.
Saturday was the first time Piquionne and Dindane have started together upfront and it looked a threatening partnership. Wigan’s Titus Bramble and Emmerson Boyce were given a torrid time as Dindane and Piquionne were relentless in their running and movement, culminating in a promising strike-duo. Tommy Smith was rather unfortunate to have been left out – for the first time since his August arrival – as he has been in good form, but Hart knew there was only so long he could stick with the former Watford man along with Dindane without the duo scoring – despite playing well. Hart’s gutsy decision to not only opt for the in-form Piquionne but also stick with the under-fire Dindane should not go unnoticed and the fact it came off so well is only testament to Hart himself.
There have been many on the south coast calling for the former Nottingham Forest boss’ head, but it is this writer’s opinion that since his arrival in February, he has performed miracles in rescuing a sinking ship. His dignified, selfless and unspectacular approach has given the club at least some pride amidst the ridiculous off-pitch scenes, and many lesser men would have chucked in the towel long ago. There is no doubt the players are behind him and the fans have stuck by him and his side throughout what has been a turbulent start to the season. Whether the Wigan result proves a turning point, only time will tell, but the confidence it will instil into the side can only help in Hart’s bid to keep the club in the Premier League.
Saturday was a day full of positives. Indeed the praise should not be solely focused on the strikers, as Hart’s men secured their third consecutive clean-sheet. The back four of Steve Finnan, Younes Kaboul, Marc Wilson and Tal Ben-Haim have impressed in recent weeks and the silly mistakes that threatened to ruin Pompey’s season in the opening few months have all but evaporated. Even Nadir Belhadj looked solid when he replaced the injured Finnan. Talking of substitutions, the introduction of Kanu just before the hour mark offered Hart a superb impact substitution as the Nigerian showed once more the kind of effect he can have against tired defenders. Kanu remains a fans’ favourite and his superb cameo – in which he provided Dindane with his further two goals – means Hart now has five strikers pushing for the two slots up top. Smith and Danny Webber have done very little wrong since their arrivals and with Kanu still showing his class, any let-up from the two men currently in possession – Dindane and Piquionne – who will need plenty more performances like Saturday’s to keep their place.
Overall, Pompey fans will enjoy the week ahead with renewed optimism within their ranks. A trip to Ewood Park awaits next with the added impetus of a win potentially lifting Hart and his troops out of the relegation zone. November is a massive month for the Blues with further winnable games against the likes of Stoke and Burnley (in early December), followed by a tough end to the year. With that first home win now under his belt, and Dindane’s sudden goal-burst aiding his belief, Hart will be hoping that – just like London buses – more come along quickly.