If by some miracle Portsmouth manage to survive their financial woes and somehow hit some momentous form from now until the end, Saturday’s derby demolition will be seen as a definite turning point. Instead, it looks as if it’ll be a great day for the fans to look back on in a season of utter turmoil.
It was a day for heroes, and Pompey fans certainly found a new one. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie’s arrival last month hardly made a splash on the south coast but his stunning second half display at St. Mary’s will be remembered for many years. He opened the scoring within 10 minutes of coming on with a beautifully placed shot before setting up two of the next three devastating blows. Although the former Arsenal man will deservedly get most of the credit for Saturday’s win, much credit should fall at the doorstep of Avram Grant who once again turned a game with his substitutes. Big moments call for big decisions, and the Israeli’s change of Quincy for the defensive minded Angelos Basinas on 58 minutes was a inspired one.
Indeed up until that point, the visitors had been nothing short of dire – in every area. They defensively looked like being opened up every time Southampton attacked while the midfield diamond couldn’t string a pass together between them. The front pairing of Aruna Dindane and the anonymous John Utaka were feeding on scraps and the tie was slipping further away from Pompey by the second. But, largely thanks to David James, the visitors were level at the break and Grant’s smart tactical change gave Pompey a different angle to work with. Quincy’s introduction meant the side transformed to a 4-3-3 with the Ghanaian operating on the left-flank and Utaka the right, flanking Dindane through the middle. It gave the side pace on the wings which was neutralised for each of the four goals, most of which were pacey counter-attacking moves that the tiring Saints simply couldn’t handle.
But the question still remains over the Blues inept first half display, which follows in a long line of poor openings that have been saved by a better second half showing. Grant still doesn’t seem to know what his best team or system is and has made wholesale changes on numerous games when his initial plans have failed. The Israeli has become something of a Tinkerman since arriving at Fratton Park with the strikers, full-backs and midfielders chopping and changing at an alarming rate. The former Chelsea boss is still to find a winning formula for his side and has even gone from chucking out the diamond formation as soon as he got his feet under the table at Fratton Park in favour of the 4-3-3 system, before performing something of a dramatic u-turn since the turn of the year, reverting back to former manager Paul Hart’s favoured formation.
From an outside viewpoint, Grant seems to favour the 4-3-3 system but became increasingly aware he perhaps didn’t quite have the players to enforce such a system. With a squad so bereft of width, the winger slots were being filled by Dindane, Kevin-Prince Boateng and even Jamie O’Hara – all of who are at their best when played through the middle. The three aforementioned names are arguably Pompey’s most influential so incorporating them into their preferred positions will surely be behind Grant’s thinking. However, that has meant using the midfield diamond, which has been sparing in its success. Indeed the diamond formation seems to be at the very forefront of the ‘good performance, bad result’ regime that has plagued the Blues for the majority of the campaign. Too many times has the diamond helped Pompey gain a solid foothold in a game only to possess absolutely no threat going forwards as it offers zero width.
Perhaps another u-turn is on the cards for Grant after Saturday’s dramatic second half improvement. Indeed Quincy’s display may be the extra option Grant was looking for, especially with Utaka now back in the picture, giving Pompey renewed pace and width on both flanks. Whether this will force Grant into another tactical rethink remains to be seen, but no-one at Pompey can afford to spend to much time basking in their glorious derby-day win. No doubt the win could potentially be the boost the side so desperately needed but focus must now turn to the visit of Stoke on Saturday tea-time. If there’s still a minor glimmer of hope in the battle for survival, only a win here will keep that light still shimmering.