Thursday, 1 September 2011

Verdict on the squads from academy to first team - September 1st 2011

As the summer nights begin to draw in and the light begins to fade earlier each day we are now at least in a clearer picture of what position we are now in with our beloved football club. The transfer window has shut and as expected there were no new additions to the squad yesterday which was hardly surprising given that Chief Executive David Lampitt had flown out to Spain to watch Pompey crash 5-1 to the hands of Real Betis in the re-arranged pre-season friendly fixture. Pompey were without Mokoena or Benjani who failed to obtain work visa’s, Mullins who was carrying a knock whilst the likes of; Huseklepp, Lawrence, Kanu, Tal Ben Haim, Hreidarrson and Futacs were all away on international duty. This gave a chance to Academy players; Tallack, Stockford, Magri and Webster to all make an impression on Manager Steve Cotterill and also squad fringe player Williams. Despite the drubbing players like Magri can once again come away with credit for a good performance and the influence of match days such as this one will have a big influence on bringing them through into the full match squad one day.
Today saw the departure of Christian Dailly after just two appearances in the Pompey side. This leaves the squad size at 19 before the emergency loan window re-opens in a week’s time. One player who certainly won’t be coming to the club despite a summer of speculation is Chelsea youngster Patrick Van Aanholt who has signed on a season long loan to Wigan Athletic. Latest new signing Jed Wallace from non-league Lewes is believed to have been sent to the academy setup to further his foot balling education for now.
This leaves the squad as follows for now;
GK – Ashdown and Henderson
DF – Mokoena, Pearce, Halford, Rocha, Tel Ben Haim and Hreidarsson
MID – Norris, Williams, Ward, Lawrence and Mullins
FOR – Benjani, Futacs, Kitson, Kanu, Varney and Huseklepp
Tallack (20) Stockford (21) and Magri (23) aren’t as of yet included in the squad despite being allocated squad numbers after the trip to Betis yesterday.
There are lots of questions that need answering with the club at the present time from the academy side to the first team. I’m not suggesting that for one moment I have all of those answers but I’ll give you my view on how I see them. Despite this blog being linked to the Portsmouth Blue Army I will point out that these views are my own and not necessarily of any of the other admins on the site. So where to start? From the bottom upwards I guess.
The Academy
For the first time in a number of season’s it seems that the Portsmouth FC academy is starting to pay dividends. In the early 90s we were treated to a host of names who graced the hallowed turf of Fratton Park including the names of Anderton, Symons, Powell and Awford who ironically as Portsmouth FC’s ever youngest recorded player, is now in charge of the academy set up including his son Nick Awford. Under the management of Harry Redknapp the club relied less on bringing players through the ranks and instead went gung ho with the cheque book which ultimately ended with the club falling into administration as we all well know. In his second spell in charge the only name to have come through the ranks was that of Marc Wilson who was sold to Stoke in the deal which brought Lawrence and Kitson into the club. It was Paul Hart who gave current squad player Joel Ward his chance in the first team and Asmir Begovic who also went to Stoke with Wilson. Since then it’s been a case of players leaving rather than being given any real opportunity to progress through the club, with Ritchie, Gregory, Pack and Kilbey all having left the club.
This season Australian youngster Ryan Williams has been given the opportunity to impress and has been included in the full first team squad. Lewis Stockford is another name waiting on the wings for his chance having being included in the pre-season tour of America and taken with the first team to Real Betis last night. Sam Magri continues to impress since the Under 17 World Cup in the summer. Penalties for England against Germany and Argentina and a calmness and self assurance wise beyond his years will hopefully see him grace the field of Fratton Park for many seasons to come. Add the names of Ashley Harris, Chinedu Vine, Republic of Ireland U19 GK Matt Gledhill, Welsh U16 George Colson and Australian U17 trio; Jordan Fitzharris, Patrick Antelmi and Alexander Grant and the future of the club from an academy point of view is looking very promising. All that needs to happen is for them to be given a chance by Cotts and finally he seems to be changing his mind when it comes to the youngsters having been quite forthright last season in his view that they weren’t good enough yet to step up.
An impressive pre-season for the academy was continued into their first fixture of the season when they beat Manchester United away from home 2-1 although they sadly lost their next fixture at home to Liverpool 1-0. Still given the nature of the opposition and the loss of Magri through injury, there’s no shame in that result at all. Whilst our production line from academy to first team might not be akin to our closest neighbours and rivals just yet, the club is finally showing the indications that in the seasons to follow we will be able to claim to have one of the best academies in the country again all being well. New signing Jed Wallace from Lewes this week was set to join Newcastle United before signing on a three year contract so for me that speaks volumes about the set up and Awford and his staff should be congratulated on the great job they’re doing at present and long may it continue. I’m sure we’ll be hearing the names of these lads in the next couple of seasons.
I guess the easiest way to break down the first team squad is to look at players in each position and evaluate them on a player by player basis.
Jamie Ashdown   
Having played the role of second fiddle to James et al, Ashdown finally got the chance to become Pompey’s first choice GK last season. Not without his critics and there have been calls for him to be replaced by Henderson, I feel much of what’s said is unwarranted. Too many people forget that you can only play one goal keeper in a game and for a professional who’s waited years to finally get his chance I can’t fault the lad on his record last season and I personally think he deserves to keep his place as the number one goal keeper. He broke the clubs all time record for consecutive clean sheets last season which when you consider we had Alan Knight play for us over the years, I think it adds extra weight to the achievement.
Henderson who came in from Bristol City will have no doubt have benefited, like Ashdown from the advice of ex-Portsmouth and England GK David James. He made his debut in the 1-0 defeat by Barnet in the Carling Cup and played in last night’s 5-1 defeat to Betis. At 23 Henderson left Bristol City citing the reason as a lack of first team opportunities. I think with the form of Ashdown he will find his chances limited at Pompey for the next couple of seasons as well. He played just five games in total for his old club and was loaned out to York, Weymouth, Aldershot and Yeovil twice. For now he will be one for the future. Henderson has been capped at Republic of Ireland U21 level.
Signed from Blackburn Rovers, Mokoena is one of the most internationally experienced players in the current Pompey squad having appeared over 100 times for the South African national team. He was widely expected to be leaving in the summer but has impressed SC with his attitude and has remained in the Managers plans. Sadly for me despite a winning goal against Coventry in the FA Cup a couple of seasons back I have never found anything to cheer Mokoena about. For me he’s too much of a liability at the back and his disciplinary record is quite frankly appalling. Not good enough and should have been shown the door.
When the name Rocha appears on the team sheet I feel a lot more confident in Pompey’s ability to get a result on a match day. Currently being left out of the side by SC I wonder how he has only managed a total of 6 appearances for the full Portuguese national side. Since his arrival at the club Rocha has put in an abundance of sterling match saving performances. He is also one of the more decorated squad members having won the Portuguese league, the Portuguese Cup and Super Cup during his time with Benfica. Got to question why SC isn’t playing him at present and continues to include Mokoena.
Re-signed from South Coast side AFC Bournemouth in the summer, Pearce missed the opening games of the season through a suspension carried over. One of the only times on record that Storrie managed to organise a decent football contract, SC was able to bring former academy player Pearce back to the club on relative peanuts due to an inserted clause. Fast becoming a fans favourite Pearce at 23 has a massive future ahead of him at the club and surely a good shout for taking over the captains arm band in the seasons to come.
At 37 Herman is let’s face it getting on a bit but the Icelandic Captain keeps himself in tip top condition and his fitness levels cannot be called one of those of an average 37 year old that’s for certain. His only career honours to date in a long career were the FA Cup victory with Pompey in 2008 and a Third Division Champions medal with Brentford. Probably best not to mention how many Premiership clubs Herman has now been relegated with including ourselves. It’s a record that I certainly don’t wish on the lad. It wouldn’t surprise me if this season is the last in a Pompey shirt. He’s been a great servant and I’m sure we’ll see some great performances from him before now and the end of the season even if like Rocha he isn’t currently involved at present.
Halford rejoined the club in the summer, this time on a permanent deal having been with the club on loan last season. For me the Pompey signing of the summer. Strong, great with the ball, a simply superb acquisition and his form is consistent. I think with his long throws into the box to be met by the giant Futacs, Halford will be the player who helps Pompey pose a real threat going forward. Definitely the one for me that we need to keep clear from suspensions and injuries. Halford was capped 4 times at England U20 level.
With plenty of Premiership experience behind him including a spell at Chelsea, I still have a question mark over TBH and his defending abilities and not because of the wages debacle and the off field problems with the club from last season. Over the years I’ve seen him put some match winning performances for the sides he’s played for but I just don’t feel comfortable with him in the side. Undoubtedly talented and capped at multi levels by Israel I’m hoping that he finds his game and proves me wrong as the season progresses.
Listed by the club as a midfielder youngster Ward is often deployed at the back instead. One of the few who’s risen through the academy into the first team it’s fair to say the lad doesn’t lack any enthusiasm but with three bookings to his name already this season there’s a part of his game that needs to calm down a little bit and with time and experience, a bit of guidance there’s certainly no reason that Ward can’t be a major part in Pompey teams for many seasons to come.
The fact that SC has brought Williams into the first team speaks volumes for the Australian and the progress he’s made so far in his Pompey career. Typically having struggled to fill the bench for the entirety of last season, the FA changes the number of subs allowed to be named on a match day to five and Williams has found himself missing out because of it. Sadly the squad size we have means that a loan deal for Williams to gain valuable experience isn’t likely to materialise for the lad and I suspect the only chances he will get anytime soon will be down to injuries or suspensions which is a great shame for the young lad.
Another one of the summer’s new buys, Norris finally made the jump from Ipswich Town having missed the opportunity to do so in the January transfer window previously. With a reputation for being one of the most consistent midfielders in the Championship, Town had certainly tried their best to keep one of their best assets on the books. Alongside Halford the signature of Norris was one of the signings that impressed me most during the summer window and I’m expecting big things from the player for Pompey this season.
What’s there not to like about  Hayden Mullins right now other than the fact he picked up a knock in the last game with Cardiff City? Mr Consistency last season for Pompey, Mullins’ name is surely the first on the team sheet come match day for SC. A few more goals would be nice but apart from that you can’t ask for more from a player in a Pompey shirt.
It’s alleged that Lawrence’s under par performances have more to do with his off field activities than a struggle to find any form or fitness at present, though he has just been recalled into the Republic of Ireland squad. Such an important player for Pompey we need him focusing on his game and getting back to the peak of his football if Pompey are realistically going to stand any chance of a decent season. Famously shown the door by Sunderland boss Roy Keane for his antics in the bedroom rather than those on the field and a fall out with Stoke boss Tony Pulis over late night revelling, it’s about time that alleged off the field rumours about the players conduct stop and he puts his focus into being a professional footballer if they are proven to be true once more.
Pompey old boy found himself back at the club having not had his contract renewed by big spending Manchester City which might prove itself to be a good investment on Pompey’s part considering the fee we received for the lad when he left us. The two most obvious candidates for this award in the past couple of decades would be the purchases of Lee Bradbury for a reputed £5,000 and Guy Whittingham for a paltry fee of £450 to buy him out of his army contract. Fans favourite Benjani got a heroes reception when unveiled before the fans at Fratton Park. Lacking match fitness he scored a hat trick against Swindon Town in a behind closed doors friendly which saw Pompey win 4-0. Last season he managed 3 goals in 21 appearances for Premier League side Blackburn Rovers and failed to find the net in 8 appearances in a Sunderland shirt. Sadly apart from Paul Walsh I can’t think of any players who have set the game alight when returning to their old clubs. His work ethic for the team could never be questioned in his first spell. My biggest fear is that previously we had the players of quality to benefit from it. Sadly I don’t think we do this time around and Benjani will have to adapt his playing style if he is to succeed this season. Fingers crossed for the player but I’m not expecting big things from him I’m afraid to say.
A player I know little about other than he’s a tall lad and was released from Werder Bremen in the summer having spent last season on loan to German 2nd tier Bundesliga side FC Ingolstadt 04 where he scored just twice in 23 appearances. I’m hoping that he adapts to the English game and with the benefit of Halford’s long throws can prove a threat in the box with his height. Still to make his debut, time will tell.
Where is it all going wrong for Dave Kitson? Once the darling of the Reading side his career seems to be in freefall at present. With a lack of striking options available to SC and Kanu’s legs not being guaranteed to be able to carry him through to the end of a game, Kitson has been deployed as a loan striker in a 4-5-1 formation that has born little fruition and only one goal to his name so far this season in the 1-0 home with over Reading. I desperately hope he starts to show the form that made him such a success at Reading. I just can’t see it happening for the lad at the moment which is a shame because somewhere in his legs and boots is a talent that Pompey have failed to benefit from since his arrival. Fingers crossed he can forge a partnership with another one of the Pompey forwards as the side begins to gel but at present I can’t see him getting much past double figures at best for the season. To all intents and purposes he should be the player we’re looking to, to get the goals for Pompey this season. And if I don’t see him scoring then it’s not hard to work out that I think this side on paper at the moment is going to struggle somewhat if we don’t get the right quality in when the emergency transfer window re-opens next week.
After a solid season on loan to Blackpool last year, Varney must have a penchant for seaside towns. Having scored the consolation in last night’s defeat and another in the 2-2 draw with Boro on the opening day of the season, Varney is the clubs only realistic goal scoring option at present. I think the player will have a fantastic career for the club. I just hope the burden of expectation doesn’t become too much of a weight around his shoulders.
A fantastically exciting six minute debut was soon washed away by his performance in his full debut at home to Cardiff a week later which saw SC swap him out onto the left wing having been deployed as a striker in the first half of the game. All it took was two burly defenders to nullify any threat he may have carried and his game was over. But with little over 70 minutes of football under his belt for the club it’s not fair to judge him just yet. His critics say he’s too inconsistent. I can’t help but wonder if he’ll turn out to be the new Mathias Svensson. Wonder goal one week – clearing the stands the next.
Kanu is like a new signing this season – He’s actually playing games. More over he’s actually managing to play a full 90 minutes in some and still make the starting line up for the next match. Without a doubt Kanu despite his age is head and shoulders above the quality of any other player at Pompey. His experience is invaluable to the club and the younger players. He’s won the league in Nigeria, The Dutch league 3 times with Ajax not to mention the Champions League way back in 1994. He’s won the Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup, and the UEFA Cup with Internazionale. The Premier League twice with Arsenal, the FA Cup three times (twice with Arsenal and once of course with Pompey lest we forget), the Charity Shield, U17 World Cup and an Olympic Gold medal. That’s quite a medal haul. How many games and goals we see from Kanu this season I have no idea. But I’m thrilled for the guy at present and I no longer say that through gritted teeth. I was always his biggest critic when he first joined the club. Take away the FA Cup final goal and I’m still on Team Kanu. I never thought I’d have written that a few years back.
At present the squad isn’t one stamped with quality all over it despite what some managers might kindly say about it from opposition clubs. Someone made the point the other day that we don’t have a single player who strikes fear into the opposition. We are devoid of a natural goal scorer at the moment, a play maker who can run at the opposition’s players and make them fear. This side has no strength or depth to it whatsoever and I can only see us struggling as the season progresses unless we manage to get hold of some decent signings on loan when the transfer window re-opens. To suggest otherwise would be deluding ourselves. We’ve come a long way since the start of last season of that there is no doubt. I read yesterday on a comment how it’s great to see that we didn’t lose any key players in the summer. Sorry I think he might have missed the fact that we lost our top goal scorer to Leicester having seen his contract run out and have not scored a single goal in the first half of any of our games in the league and cup so far this season.
Yes we may have only lost one game in that time to neighbours Brighton and only then did we lose because Lawrence missed a last minute penalty but for me that’s papering over the cracks. A bit like Arsenal’s win over Udinese in the Champions League qualifier only to be ripped apart by a quality Manchester United side 8-2 in the next game.
Pompey have now won 1 game in 14 in all competitions stretching back from last season. In that time we’ve managed to score a grand total of just 7 goals in all competitions and have been dumped out of the Carling Cup to lower league opposition in the form of Barnet. Did we field the youngsters against them? No! We had a decent squad out, virtually the best we can field on paper. And we lost!
The last goal we scored in the first half of any game was way back in March when Nugent found the net in the game against Leicester. It’s a quite simple football equation – If you don’t score goals, then you won’t win games. My God are we proving that correct. Let’s not beat around the bush here and try making one league loss sound better than it actually is. The side at the tail end of last season were either not good enough or not interested enough to carry on the last decent run we had.
Yes we were unlucky with injuries but we supposedly had on paper one of the best squads in the league. I’m just happy we finished in the same league and in the black financially for once after a disastrous few months where we were lucky to still have had a club to have even supported. I said on the opening day of last season I would have taken fourth bottom and if we get a few injuries and suspensions this season with a small squad again I’d still take that if someone offered it to me right here and right now.
We’re not about to walk away with the league. We’re not realistically about to push for a playoff spot. We can’t score goals so how are we going to win matches? Forgive me if I’m wrong but no side has ever been promoted from successfully drawing their way through an entire campaign and losing the odd match by one goal. Yes the season is barely underway, but we don’t look like a side that can get goals at present. We don’t look like we’ve got the money to buy one either. Kitson looks about as dangerous in front of goal as a 92 year old Granny with a knitting needle in her hand. Kanu is so old nowadays that he might be the man that she’s knitting the cardigan for but until Kitson shakes his game up then all Kanu’s experience and potential to open up a defence is completely wasted.
Here’s the goal ratio’s and total goals scored of our current striking options from last season
Futacs – Scored 2 goals in 23 games giving him a scoring ratio of 1 in 11.5 games.
Kanu – 2 in 32 meaning a ratio of 1 in 16
Benjani – 3 in 29 / ratio 1 in 9.66
Kitson – 8 in 38 / ratio 1 in 4.75
Huseklepp – 2 in 14 / ratio 1 in 7
Varney – 5 in 30 / ratio 1 in 6
That’s a total of 22 goals in 166 games which gives them a combined goal average of 1 goal in every 7.55 games. Compare that to the last 14 games for Pompey where we average 1 goal every two games and you can’t argue that having sold our top goal scorer that statistically we don’t look like we could hit a barn door with a banjo.
You only have to look at the total number of shots off target in all competitions so far this season – 38 attempts compared to the oppositions 25 off target to work out why we’re not seeing the opposition’s keeper bending to pick the ball out of the net. Our top goal scorers all have one goal apiece. I’m sorry to those of you who think we look like we have a good squad but we don’t. When the news that Mullins had gotten a knock against Cardiff came through I almost shit myself with fear. I’m praying that he’s fit for the game against his old side West Ham. His loss to the team would be huge at present.
What I hoped for during the summer wasn’t miracles. Just something to give me a tiny more splattering of hope than I do now that we’re laying the foundations down for the future. That we have per se a five year plan to get us properly back on our feet. From a squad of 19 we have 9 players over the age of 30. Had Dailly had his contract renewed today we’d have had a squad of 20 with exactly half the players over the age of 30. I’m over 30 so I can say without ageism that this isn’t the bright new dawn for the club. Herman and Dailly are both 37. Kanu is 35 (No jokes please). Benjani  is 33. Only Ashdown at 30 is the player in the 30s club that has any real potential to still be around in any good number of seasons time. A player over 30 who takes a knock does not have the same recovery time as a younger players let’s face facts and given the physical nature of the Championship I expect Ryan Williams will be quite pleased come Christmas to be back on the bench if not sat in the first team if we catch a bad run of injuries not to mention suspensions!
The average age of the squad is 28.05 years. Yesterday with Dailly in the numbers it was 28.5 years. That figure includes Ryan Williams at 17 years of age. Take Williams out of the equation and the average age jumps to 28.66 years. Not a statistic that represents a side and a regime that is being built for the future of the club. Thank heavens for some decent youngsters coming through the ranks. We’re going to need them and sooner than Cotts thinks.
Suspensions are a huge threat to a squad that have already collected 18 bookings and that’s by the end of August. You can shout as loud as you like to bad decisions by referees. It doesn’t mean anything because the bookings still stand and we will still have bad referees. We are going to look very light on the ground very soon if they continue to rack up as quickly as they are at the present rate.
At the back Mokoena will remain a liability and how he gets picked I will never understand. The challenge on one of the Norwich players at the tail end of last season was worthy of a prison sentence let alone anything else. How he didn’t get sent off I’m still scratching my head. Herman god bless his soul is on his last legs, SC ignores Rocha for some reason, Ward is going to be the first suspension of the season if he carries on like this. Pearce has hopefully learnt his lessons from starting on a ban this season and missing out but not likely. If him and Halford got suspended and Rocha tries to get a move away from the club in the January window having been frozen out as he currently is then we’re going to be in the real sticky stuff unless we do some good business in the emergency loan window when it opens.
But after at least 15 failed transfer targets chose not to come during the summer, when the so called done deal for Chelsea youngster Patrick Van Aanholt on loan never happened and he was sent out to Wigan on a season long loan yesterday, unless we come up with something good – The disco pants are going to be staying hung up for a while to come on a Saturday afternoon in my opinion.

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