Portsmouth Season Preview

pompeyThe Football Lab interviews Portsmouth fan Harry Davis ahead of the new season. You can follow him on Twitter @MrDavishPFC. Here, Harry discusses Portsmouth’s recent defensive improvements, manager Andy Awford’s loyalty to the club, and the advantages of being run by a Fans’ Trust.

Portsmouth ended last season with an 8 game unbeaten run. How much might that momentum count for come August?

Having ended up finishing mid-table last season, the 8 game unbeaten run was definitely the catalyst for that, and will hopefully carry the team to achieve better success this coming season. With several underachievers and high-paid players being released from the club, and having been replaced by hungrier, younger and more gifted players, the run looks set to continue into the 2014/15 season, starting at hotly-tipped for relegation Exeter.

Is Andy Awford the man to take the club forward long-term?

Awford is Pompey through and through. There’s no more to it. He’s been with the club as it went through the mire, and has stayed loyal throughout the dark times, where many others jumped ship. Having been in a somewhat managerial role, coaching the youth academy, Andy proved at the end of last season why he deserves the job. Under Richie Barker, the team looked lifeless, and wilted under the strict regime set them. When Awford stepped in, after days the attitudes and mentalities of the squad drastically changed, and so the unbeaten run began; and didn’t end. So yes, I feel Awford is certainly the right candidate. Having the ability to blood the youngsters is key is this division, and knowing them and their playing styles inside-out is something that I feel we have one-up over on many other teams in League 2. Pompey fans could understandably be concerned, starting last season with Guy Whittingham in charge, another Pompey legend, who unfortunately wasn’t cut out for football management yet – however Awford, in my eyes, has much better credentials as is perfect for the job.

The goalkeeping position has been dilemma, with 3 different ones used last season. Is new boy Paul Jones the answer?

For the last few seasons Pompey have struggled to find a first-team goalkeeper, ever since the departure of the ever-present David James. First was Jamie Ashdown, then Stephen Henderson, Simon Eastwood, and finally Trever Carson. With two new, and experienced goalkeepers at this level, there is definitely going to be competition been Paul Jones and Michael Poke this season, both of which have shown their strengths in preseason so far.

You had the joint-worst defensive record in the league, and notably, the defender with the most appearances only started 25 times. Are you in need of a more consistent back-line?

During the January transfer window, we acquired the services of no-nonsense centre back Ben Chorley, who since being at the club, has shown why he deserves to be a first team regular, and when he plays, the team as a whole seem to perform better. With the rise to first team football from Jack Whatmough, and the arrival of Alex Wynter from Crystal Palace, the defensive problems seem to have been abolished. Having watched a few preseason games so far, the back four are certainly looking a lot calmer and stronger, which is something I hope will be carried into the coming season.

Defender Alex Wynter joins on a season’s loan from Crystal Palace. Could it be an advantage that he’s used to training at a Premier League club?

Last season we had a few players that had come from Premier League clubs, Danny East and Sonny Bradley from Hull City, Daniel Alfei from Swansea and Michael Drennan of Aston Villa, to name but a few, and unfortunately only one of them is still at the club, due to a mixture of a long-term injury and impressive performances before and after said injury. I think it all comes down to the player’s mentality, and if they have the desire to be successful for their loan club, rather than focusing on their development and whether they’ll fit back in at their home club. After all, if they perform well in the lower leagues, there’s a better chance they’ll develop at a better level, with more competition, and return a technically better player, and challenge for a place in their club’s first team. So far, he’s been performing well, and seems to have fit in with the players and the tactics Awford wants to imply. Besides, with a new training ground on the verge of completion, there’s no reason why he couldn’t still undergo training at a Premier League level at Portsmouth.

New signing James Dunne is known for his high work rate, while Danny Hollands and Jed Wallace are staying on. How do you feel the midfield is shaping up?

The midfield for next season looks very promising. With Danny Hollands signed permanently after securing a hat-trick against Plymouth on the final day of the season, and James Dunne signed to play alongside him (who, by the way scored a worldie of a goal against Bournemouth in a preseason friendly), there’s no reason the midfield shouldn’t be contributing to scoring goals. Jed Wallace finished top goalscorer last season, and if he can replicate his early form from last season throughout this one, he’ll be one of our most valuable assets. With Andy Barcham injured towards the end of last season, Ricky Holmes had to step in a fill a big role on the left side of midfield, which he did superbly, creating several chances from set pieces, along with his ability to tear apart a defense with a blistering run into the box.

Craig Westcarr was top scorer for Walsall in League One, while loanee Miles Storey was an England under-19 international not long ago. Could either be that consistent striker you didn’t have last season?

Last season was a mixed bag when it came to strikers. David Connolly left for Oxford on loan, whilst Patrick Ageymang never looked 100% fit. Jake Jervis and Ryan Taylor were introduced in January, and did a fairly good job, helping to provide a few goals that helped us secure our league position last season, however Jervis has since been released, and Connolly’s future is uncertain – in steps Craig Westcarr and Miles Storey. Westcarr proved last season that he can score goals, racking up 17 for Walsall, playing a part in the side that lost to Peterborough at Wembley in the JPT Final. Nevertheless, if he can hit the same tally for Portsmouth this season, in a division below his previous club’s, there’s no doubt he’ll become a fan’s favourite before Christmas. Storey also looks promising, a youngster brought in to add some pace to the attack, which is what was lacking last season, who can hopefully prove a worthy signing, giving League 2 defenders a fright.

Portsmouth FC are now owned by the Fans’ Trust. Should more clubs be run that way?

Portsmouth being owned by the fans is quite possibly the best thing that could have happened, but it would only have worked in a lower division. The aim is to build the club from the ground up again, and having performed exceptionally well financially, in comparison to what was predicted, the club looks set to be completely debt free within 3 years, as opposed to the originally budgeted 5. The contribution from fans, selling out games, securing over 10’000 season tickets both last season, and for the coming one, shows that everyone is behind the club, and understands the direction it is going in – and the only way is up. Pompey have proved it can be done by fans, and the same goes for clubs in Europe such a Dortmund, who have shown the footballing world fan-owned clubs are successful, and are the future of English football.

With most bookmakers, Portsmouth are at around 2/1 for promotion. Where will you finish?

Promotion has to be the aim, at all costs. Yes, myself and many other fans would love a little cup run, and perhaps bump into a Premier League side in the process, but our main aim has to be success in the league. Many bookies have predicted us to go up this season, and they did last season, however this year there is a better atmosphere around the club; not of expectation, but ambition, and that’s to secure promotion. If I had to give a league position, I’d say 3rd place, depending on the potential of a cup-run. Regardless, there’s no reason as to why we couldn’t do it this year!

TFL Verdict

There’s a quiet sense of optimism at Fratton Park. With a particularly strong midfield, I think Pompey will go up at the second time of asking. 1st

(Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portsmouth_F.C.)