Local Lad Done Good - Thoughts on PFC Derby Day
|Published: 23rd December 2011 14:43|
Pompey go in to the Christmas break, perhaps in better shape on the field than people had anticipated thanks to an unbeaten run that has seen them draw with Leicester and Southampton and win at home to Coventry and away to Burnley.
It is fair to say the Appleton tenure so far has not produced the free-flowing football that the fans crave, far from it, but there are signs of more confidence and the recent game against Southampton, referred to as "Elclassicoast", shows that the old levels of resilience are starting to return to Pompey.
The South Coast derby was far from a classic affair, Apart from the ritual baiting of each sets of fans it could well have been another low key Championship match. Played against the backdrop of the "Bubble" where Southampton fans were bussed in and hidden from view by large portable metal screens to avoid confrontation, on a cold December afternoon there was little quality football to be seen from either side.
Pompey lined up with just the one upfront against a free scoring Southampton much to the chagrin of Pompey's fans, especially as it was a derby game where anything can happen and the fact that Southampton had begun to falter of late. Kitson was the preferred lone striker, while Southampton adopted the more familiar 4-4-2 formation to Pompey's 4-5-1.
The game got underway to roars of "Four one, in your own backyard!" a reference to the last time the two clubs met in February 2010 when Pompey were on the march to their second FA Cup Final appearance at Wembley in two years and dealt a crushing blow to their South Coast rivals. A quick tempo ensued and Southampton had several early corners as the teams settled, in fact Southampton were the sharper side, with Pompey struggling to get any rhythm going let alone to maintain one, but for all their possession, Southampton were edgy and rarely threatened, in fact the two best opportunities of the first half fell to Pompey with Halford punting a ball the wrong side of the upright at the Milton End and a few moments later on the stroke of half time, Norris doing the same.
The second half started with Pompey taking a much more determined approach and beginning to push forward more and not give Southampton the respect that they had shown them in the first half. Kitson worked tirelessly upfront, but the problem with playing a loan striker is he can't do it all without supporting runs from his fellow players and that was just not happening. The Fratton faithful were becoming increasingly restless with the formation and Kitson's isolation and soon chants of "Eric the Viking" were booming around as they called for the introduction of Eric Huseklepp. Huseklepp and Futacs then began to run the line and warm up. As they did so, Pompey conceded another needless free kick and the inevitable Southampton goal came in the 63rd minute, courtesy of a Ricky Lambert header, which perhaps Pearce should have done better in dealing with. The Fratton faithful looked on in stunned silence as the Milton End erupted in a crazed version of the Village People song YMCA or something similar and a red flare was let off in celebration.
The opening goal left Pompey lacklustre and chasing the game both physically and mentally, but in truth they had not seriously competed in the first half and although they had the better chances, were lucky not to be behind earlier. Southampton started to move the ball around with ease and could, perhaps should, have gone two up. Appleton then took off the wholly ineffective Lawrence and replaced him with Huseklepp. The Viking's introduction led to a jolt of self belief in to the Pompey side and suddenly there was a bit more industry about them. Joel Ward in particular working down the right flank kept trying to push the game further and further up the field and get things done, but he still lacked some support. Meanwhile a second for Southampton looked a clear possibility and moments after the introduction of Marko Futacs for Mullins, Guy do Prado should have made it two nil......but he didn't and that was the catalyst Pompey needed.
With the minutes ticking down, Pompey worked the ball out of defence, down the wing and a cross cut into the area and was cleared by Southampton. From the resulting 84th minute corner kick in to the box, Joel Ward beat Guy do Pardo to the ball in the air and with a crisp downward header the ball was in the back of the net. Cue Chaos!! Ward ran to salute his watching family in the South Stand, meanwhile the blue contingent in three sides of the famous old ground were jubilant, it was the turn of the self proclaimed "Scum Army" to stand silent as the roar of appreciation for the 22 year old local lad, Joel Ward, echoed across Fratton and beyond.
Both sides upped their game in the final minutes of the match with each having one last determined push to secure the winner. Despite a few half chances, it finished honours even which probably satisfied most.
In truth it was a game Pompey were lucky to get something out of and Appleton needs to find a way of geeing the team up beforehand. Once again Pompey seemed a yard behind and devoid of ideas. The majority of the team have had runs in established Premiership sides. Lawrence in particular was poor, but that may have had more to do with his off field antics in a Southampton night club only days earlier. The continual needless fouling in key areas of the pitch - which led to Lambert's goal - is something else Appleton must address. More importantly though, the fans are not enthused by his continual use of the lone striker.
He must find a way to use two strikers upfront and soon. If Southampton are the best the division has to offer, then this is a poor division and if Pompey can put a half decent run of wins together who knows where they will end up. By the same token, if they continue to draw against the less impressive teams then relegation could threaten in what is a relatively open league. Appleton needs to come out of the Christmas period with the unbeaten record intact and ideally a further four points in the bag if Pompey are to avoid a relegation scrap.