Isle of Wight   Pompey Supporters Club
The Chairman & others view on being a Pompey supporter, life & everything else  ...

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Chairman’s  Blog…late February 2024

Careful what you wish for…the implications of winning promotion or the implications of not winning promotion and another season in League One.

To set the scene SkyBet now have us as 6/1 on favourites to be promoted and odds on favourites to go up as Champions

Anyway call me a pessimist or a skeptic but, in my view, it’s far easier to assess the implications of not going up; simply because it is that’s all. Not going up having been on top of the league for several months and with the best defence in the league will be a huge disappointment for the overwhelming majority of our fan base including the loyal much to be admired home and away followers, the home games season ticket holders (who still have an inclination to pick and choose), the occasional or JCL’s who fit in nicely with the ’lifetime supporters’ who just can’t get there because of finance, physical constraints or distance…or a mixture of all three!  It was noticeable even at our last home game (Reading) that part of the Milton End for Pompey fans, now devoted to some kind of strange children’s’ play equipment or collective walking frames, wasn’t full although we still, at long last, went back over 20,000.

Doubtless if we don’t make it we’ll quickly slip into the blame game. They will be wide and varied but inevitably focus on the ownership, the manager, certain players etc. This time my position will be different from the position I have adopted in the last six years when, with good reason I focused on the owners and the manager.  This time it will be down to one thing alone and that is the our horrendous long-term injury list which currently stands at no less than 10 players including four or more that, in theory, would probably be part of our starting eleven if fit; certainly Poole, Morrell, Robertson and possibly McIntyre. The fact that until now we have held off all the opposition and we’re still top of the league is an enormous credit to the manager, coaching staff and, of course, the players.

Whether you enjoy modern football or not you have to take into account that there are nine or ten players that simply don’t get a break. If we’ve got no new injuries any Pompey fans can name the side that will run out on Saturday for the game with Oxford. Many may think that that is no bad thing! The majority of fans will always think that points on the board rather than games in hand is a significant advantage. The other advantage for us is that we only have one mid-week game left and that will give us time to build-up to some really big games on a week by week basis.

 I don’t see much room for discussion on this scenario (other than from people who don’t understand football); it will be the decimation of the squad, despite the January reinforcements, that will be the main reason if we do eventually miss out. Incidentally I don’t think we will miss out but it may prove to be tighter than some people think and could hinge on the games against Derby and Bolton. But if it did what happens then? Well, in theory, when the long-term injuries return to action we should have the strongest squad in the league for 2024/25. But things don’t work like that nowadays. If that was the case, other than bringing a couple of quality strikers, maybe our own no.10 and a quality keeper, then poor old Richard Hughes would be out of job. It will largely be a matter of who stays and who goes and I think that that will be pretty similar in either scenario; going up or not.

Setting aside the euphoria of promotion that will ensue that is when the Eisners, Cullen, Mousinho and Hughes will have to get to work. The Championship is a different ball park altogether with some of the really big clubs with aspirations of the Premier League having a playing budget that may be as much as ten times our budget. They will have to assess the progress of those with long term injuries, those that are out of contract and whether they will stay at Fratton, those that simply not be required, the possibility of bids for some of our better players, the loss of our loan players (unless we step up to the plate and sign Kamara) and then develop a strategy (or finalise our strategy) in terms of our squad for early August. All that involves a lot of work bearing in mind that it would be ideal to have the squad in place two/three weeks before the season starts, say second week in July.

All that and we’ll have to work on the pretext and assumption that Mousinho will still be here!

Whether or not Eisner puts his hand in his pocket within the bounds of financial fair play or any other appropriate controls is solely down to him; that is something we have to accept but ideally the Fratton based management need to know sooner rather than later about the resources that could be available to give us an even money chance of simply staying up. Don’t forget that for six years we have been used to failure but not struggling. The present squad is the obvious starting point and initially they will have to look at who they might let go or even sell. This is unlikely to generate any significant income but will create places in the overall squad (I assume around 25 players minimum). It’s not hard is it?  You’d start with Scully and Whyte, two the three goalkeepers, players like Saydee and Stevenson and maybe even Lowey and so forth. If anyone was inclined to still pay silly money for Bishop you’d be inclined to take it, although that would then require us to bring as many as three strikers and that would be a financial challenge!

From the fans perspective the two different scenarios aren’t overly different.

If we stay down, once the swell of disappointment has subsided, then we will still expect to see 14/15,000 season ticket holders, average gates close to 20,000 and hopefully further improvements especially on the north side and a makeover for the Fratton End.

If we go up, well we can expect season ticket prices to go up…indeed they will have to go up, even though. Demand will certainly outstrip any upper limit imposed by Andy Cullen; the fact of the matter is that the ground still isn’t big enough especially if you take into account the certain increase in visiting fans. It is vital that any improvements need to be undertaken and completed during the close season and this has to include a few hundred extra seats squeezed in. Where? I don’t really know.

Anyway onwards and upwards PUP

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This blog is intended for all Members of IWPSC, indeed anyone with an interest in Pompey, but it is my own personal view on the current situation at Fratton Park NOT the views of IWPSC.

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This was written before the away game to Oxford on 30/01/2024 just after we signed Callum Lang from Wigan.

I know we’re still top of the table but in the last 4/5 weeks where did it go all wrong? 

Indeed has it gone all wrong?  

Opinion seems to be split between the unsustainable optimists and the depressed skeptics. 

Before I go any further I’d like to thank Mark Nightingale, better known to some of you as Flo, for his piece about the game at Fleetwood last weekend. Those of you who don’t know him will be interested to know that emigrated to the Arctic Circle some years ago but has remained loyal to the Blues and always remembers to give his apologies for not attending the AGM hoping that we might think that a 750m mile trip was just a bit too far! It’s well worth a read, I enjoyed it enormously. 

Most Pompey fans now believe that other teams have worked out our one dimensional tactical approach which has followed on from our consistent inability to put away the lesser sides that ideally should be playing in League Division 2 if not the National League….something that has followed Mouisnho around like a bad smell since he arrived twelve months ago and, at times, embarrassing.  

That said, I’m glad to say it seems to be something we have addressed in our last two away games at Fleetwood and Port Vale. 

It also appears the bookies, who rarely get things wrong, have us marked down for the play-offs with Derby and Barnsley and one other. Not automatic promotion. The favourites are Bolton and P’boro, which I suppose is understandable as they are both on good runs and always capable of scoring. Whereas our trump card all season has been our strong defence. The other thing to be factored in, possibly in our favour, is that we have brought in two or three players in the current transfer window.

Truth is nobody knows.

It’s very difficult to be overly critical about a side that remains at the top of the league well over half way through the season. That said, going back to early/mid December, when we had a seven point lead, there were very few fans who were genuinely convinced that this time we would finally win promotion. Even I said we were going to go up although I didn’t really believe it…I’m afraid of Barnesy!

We really need to go back the best part of a year a long time after the Cowley’s had vacated the premises. Mouinho had come in and adopted a common sense approach, based on the squad that Cowley had put together. And got us into a position where we had an even money chance of making the play-offs. However too many draws and the loss of key games in the run-in kicked that into the touch. We then had to wait on Richard ‘the messiah’ Hughes to rebuild and improve the squad during the summer break. It’s fair to say that he did some amazng business on a restricted budget, such as Poole and Shaughnessy, but essentially we were still relying on the likes of Pack, Lane,Morrell, Swanson, Bishop, Towler, Rafferty and Co who all played for Cowley.

In terms of the budget I’m guessing we’ll never really know the truth; it’s all smoke and mirrors, although I don’t envisage we’ll ever have any problems in terms of financial fair play! Was Michael Eisner simply allowing us to spend income a club that attracts 18,000 every week or was he making a significant investment on his own part to realise our dream of winning promotion in our SEVENTH season in League One. What I do know (now) is that Hughes also brought in some absolute dross and, in all honesty, the only players that actually added (improved) the squad back in May 2023 is Poole, Shaughnessy and arguably Yengi and Devlin plus two of the three loan signings.

The basis of our success is an extraordinarily well drilled defence playing behind Morrell and Pack that barely concede a chance let alone goals. Overall there was not a lot of forward thinking, other than Lane and Kamara, but sometimes we managed to irk out a goal or two….bit like our last two away games. There was precious little in terms of entertainment but like 90% of Pompey fans I didn’t give a ‘monkeys’ as long as we were winning or, at worst, not getting beat. For a club like us starved of success with one promotion in over twenty years you could actually feel to optimism building and that was excitement enough for nearly all of us.

Come the middle of November last year I wasn’t the only one when studying the forthcoming fixtures thinking that we had an extraordinary chance over the period from then up to the end of February, if we steered clear of injuries and maintained our form, we had a glorious chance of building an almost unassailable lead before we had to worry about the more challenging games from March into April when we would face the other promotion contenders.

Almost inevitably we lost are unbeaten record at home to Blackpool although those that watched the (whole) game will all agree that 0-4 was very undeserved. But we bounced straight back with three convincing away wins against mid-table opposition and a home victory against the highly fancied Bolton. I know that hindsight is a wonderful gift but going into the Fleetwood (h) game, almost inexplicably,  the manager tinkered and left out Yengi and desperately tried to bring Whyte in to the side despite the fact he had been a complete flop every game he featured in…very strange. That was followed by the Boxing Day game when he pulled Lane for his old mate and we suffered our second defeat and then there was a very unforgettable night down in Devon the last game of 2023…it was 0-0 if you’ve forgotten. Those three games had the be worth 7 to 9 points and we came out with just two draws. At that point we could have been ten points clear…but we weren’t. A bit more than just a blip we all agreed. 

So far 2024 shows up as three wins out of four, a challenging win at home to horrible Stevenage, a game where we definitely deserved to lose at home to the O’s and the last two 1-0 away wins. Amazingly, as of today, miraculously we are still top but the opportunity has gone as the other main contenders have game(s) in hand as well as a superior goal difference.

We will all know tomorrow night is vital if we have finally put this difficult period behind us. Sounds like a good night for ifollow…we could easily take ¾,000 up there but Oxford wouldn’t want that would they?

After the game at Port Vale I said we needed to put things into perspective as we had just won away from home (again) and done it without Poole, Pack, Robertson, Swanson and Yengi, kept (another) clean sheet, dominated the game, created a dozen or so chances and were forced into playing a makeshift right-back. On top of all that it appears the we have brought in a very promising kid from mighty Brentford and Callum Lang who has plenty of experience but still only 25.

On the down side (yes, there has to be a down side) both Bolton and P’boro look really powerful and carry a significant goalscoring threat and we have to play both of them away from home at the end of the season. In the next couple of days ideally we need to ship out Hume, Scully and Whyte hopefully bring in the Reading guy (McIntyre) as he can play in the middle at the back as well as right-back in case there is an issue with Rafferty.

We know it’s going to be a nail biter and the last thing we want with our track record is the play-offs!  And we need to prove the bookies wrong…that doesn’t happen very often as many of you will know!

On balance, I still remain just on the side of optimistic but we have to take advantage of our games up to and including the visit to The Valley at the end of next month. If we go up it’ll be fantastic although Mr.Eisner will have to find a few million quid if we are to stand any chance of staying in the Championship. If don’t the only consolation is that we’ll have one ‘ell of a squad for League One next season

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Well it’s that time of year where traditionally, as an integral part of the Eisner regime, the wheels start to fall off after a great start that still has us at the top of the league, although the gap between us and the other runners is shrinking fast, very fast! 

The $64,000 question is why? 

There has been a range of suggestions on social media. I have no great confidence in most sites as you have no idea who you’re dealing with and they are largely idiots, keyboard warriors who go nowhere near Fratton Park. However, that is not the case with our own local group made of people I know and admire who travel to all home games and many away matches whose opinion is generally respected by all participants…indeed there are large areas of agreement but unfortunately no definitive answers to the current dilemma. 

How did we get to this position. Just three weeks ago we won 3-0 at Shrewsbury with 75% possession away from home. We had every reason to be confident that this season we were finally going to win promotion. Just a week before that Yengi had dismantled what some people believe the best central defender in the league, although in reality the bloke is just an old fashioned ale house footballer who is allowed to get away with murder by weak officials. In my view this was the best performance by a Pompey forward for perhaps ten years. Everything in the garden was rosy, as they say.

Let’s forget the abject performance by a largely weakened team in the Mickey Mouse Cup at home to Wimbledon, astonishingly in front of 8,000. That said, it did, at least, confirm that we haven’t got the depth we thought we had for the promotion  run-in. 

Then, like someone had flicked a switch, just two days before Santa came laden with calendars , replica shirt , scarves and all other types of merchandise, it all started to go a very wrong. Mighty Fleetwood arrived with a record of six straight defeats without a goal in the last four games. Lushington John was confident on his weekly 5-2 wager although he wasn’t quite sure about the two bit!! 

The manager brought back Bishop after a three weeks absence and surprisingly left out soon to be Qatar bound Yengi. More importantly, we reverted to our tactic of being totally clueless and inept on how to breakdown a team that simply ‘parks the bus’. We surrendered fortunate lead only to be caught on the break in the second-half…1-1

Despite the inexplicable decision to effectively drop Yengi we play, what is on paper our strongest team. We were really poor that day but the consensus was that you can’t win every game and surely it’s was only a blip. Fair enough…lost one league match all season and running away with it at the top of the league. Happy days. Anyway we go on, Rovers away on Boxing Day, surely that’s three points to put us back on track; we’re actually better away from home. 

Mousinho undertakes unfathomable tinkering, almost Cowleyesque, when he leaves out Lane for his old pal Gavin Whyte. He persists with Bishop. It proves to be a quite awful game despite fact we enjoy close to 65 % possession. Poor very poor. We wake up in the second 45 and Lane is brought on and predictably gets a quality equaliser, only for us to throw it away in the 90+4 minute. Some people aren’t happy…justifiably… but it’s just the second defeat of the season. That said, something is wrong and it needs sorting sorting out quick time. We move on…. next game is a struggling Exeter side, surely we can get back to winning ways? 

We knew from the second part of last season that Mousinho is always partial to a 0-0 or 1-1. Well that’s we got, despite 63% possession this time, 0-0. This time our very own tinker man leaves out Morrell (hard to believe) and Kamara …are they tired or is he not giving Exeter the necessary respect?!  By this time Yengi is 40,000 ft in the air off to the Middle East for a month or more, so that deals with one thorny issue. What is he (the Mouseman) doing? But we mustn’t worry because the ever consistent Whyte gets another start…that’s a story in itself!   

Now it’s a proper blip and becoming embarrassing. 

New Years Day and we welcome organised thuggery and cheating to Fratton Park skillfully managed by a foul mouthed fat Jock who, quite frankly, shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a game. Stevenage get a shock (and us) as Mousinho remembers his best starting eleven. Despite an early goal the mighty Stevenage go in 2-1 down at half-time. However Rab.C.Nesbitt changes it round and we get even more of a kicking but just manage to hold on for the precious three points. On the downside Bishop throws his toys out of the pram because he’s had a bit of stick on social media and by the odd gobshite at games. Grow up mate. 

Have we turned the corner? Another ‘easy’ away game in Gloucestershire coming up. 

Yet again we dominate the game but can’t create any real chances and two awful bits of defending (unusual for us) contributes to the third defeat of the season against a side that didn’t create a single chance of their own making. The whole situation is exacerbated by some inexplicable refereeing decisions but I’m afraid that’s modern football we just have to live with it as well as Bishop missing a straightforward header for an equiliser with the last ‘kick’ of the match. The ‘icing on the cake’ prior to the game is the news that we might have lost Robertson for several weeks after another training ground incident earlier in the week. 

Has our luck run out especially in terms of injuries, long(er) term injuries to key players. 

I guess we’ll have a better idea this Saturday when we take on the O’s at Fratton but if Gavin Whyte trots out onto the hallowed turf I expect he went get a universal welcome. 

So what, if anything, has gone wrong? 

You have to look at the latest developments against a background where most fans would agree that until a month ago we had overachieved and, at times, enjoyed quite a bit of good fortune. Stunning performances have been limited but largely we were getting the job done in a workmanlike fashion; not spectacular but good enough for 95% of Pompey fans who merely  want to see us win and get promoted. 

With ‘permission’ from our generous owners we rebuilt half the quad during the summer and brought off some great deals but Richard Hughes is not the messiah as he gave us Whyte, Schofield, Scully, Stevenson and a couple of others. Our three loan deals worked out far better that usual especially Robertson and Kamara. So we went into the season in a good position but still short of a no.10 and another striker. Otherwise we seem to be covered in every position. 

I think we’d all like to see the contentious issue of the playing budget put to bed. Unfortunately that isn’t the way in modern football certainly not under the current regime. Safe to say it’s higher than most (you know the ones who survive on a 4/5,000 gate). However in the last two or three years it’s safe to say there was a number of clubs with a bigger budget and now they’re all playing in the Championship. In terms of the overall infrastructure the Eisners eventually have done some good work but let’s not get carried away. If we’re going to ‘get over the line’ we’re going to need two or three quality players and the hope that the Aussies get knocked out of the Asia Cup early doors and Yengi comes back otherwise he’s away for another month. 

The FA model of possession football and playing out from the back is not best suited to the third tier especially having lost Regan Poole and now Alex Robertson and to a lesser extent the always reliable Ogilvy…and yet we persist; we have been sussed by the ‘little teams’. It’s no good having 65% possession when can’t create a half decent chance. The problem doesn’t lie in defence itself (Raggett is doing a fantastic job) despite getting caught out a couple of times because we persist with this tactic. 

If the problem isn’t at the back it must be midfield or upfront. The combo of Morrell and Pack just about run every game for us. They create the possession to allow Lane and Kamara, twelve goals between them, to get forward in support of Bishop who, in theory, should be overwhelmed with the number of chances he gets…he isn’t. Indeed it’s hard to blame him in terms of missed chances. It’s been well documented that Bishop, game after game, gets no real protection from referees and, as consequence, often fails to hold the ball up or lay it off or even get a free-kick. There was a difference with Yengi whose more mobile, runs the channels and when ‘assaulted’ he’s just as likely to sit the perpetrator on his backside. Bishop is a goalscorer and Yengi is a centre-forward. When Bishop got upset the other week my view is that Yengi was the one who should feel aggrieved. When he was left out for the Fleetwood game. 

On the basis that Mousinho is a tippy tappy disciple irrespective of who is fit and available, injuries to key players are killing us, we’ll never play two up front, we haven’t got a proper no.10 and Bishop doesn’t get the right service we’re beginning to get to the root of the problem that has to be solved to get back to winning ways and guarantee promotion. 

Eisner, Mousinho and Hughes have got just three weeks to come up with the answers of well have the face the prospect of another wasted year while Bolton, Peterboro’ and Derby march on to at least give the Championship their best shot!. 

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Please note that the views expressed in this column are my personal views not those of IOWPS



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