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COLUMNIST PAUL TRAILL

Portsmouth (A) — A lucky win on the South coast

By Paul Traill :  28/09/2009 :  Comments (7) :

With a mate having a stag do in London on the Saturday night, my sister recently moving to London and my girlfriend having never visited the capital, I had several reasons to head down South for the weekend, the Everton match being one of them.

We actually headed down straight from work on Friday so I was up and out in plenty of time come Saturday morning…too much time in fact. I aimed for the 10am train though somehow made the 9am one and was at Fratton Park before 10.30am. Still, no harm in being early.

As with the Hull game on Wednesday night, Everton had cocked up my ticket, so I had to collect it from Portsmouth’s ticket office before the game. Once that was sorted, I was about ready for a pint and on the recommendation of a very chirpy butcher, I was in The Travelers Rest pub just a short walk from the ground. I still had plenty of time before kick off so sunk a couple of ales as the pub filled up.

It's always fun watching cup draws in the pub before a game as everyone gets a bit excited about it. Arsenal vs Liverpool drew cheers from the Everton fans in the pub; Spurs vs Everton drew a few gasps from the Everton fans and Portsmouth vs Stoke drew loud applause from the Portsmouth supporters…I don’t know why, it's hardly a home-banker.

After the draw, I set off and was in my seat nicely in time for kick off. As expected Distin and Pienaar passed their fitness tests and played, with Yakubu also passing his and making the bench, so it was ‘as you were’ from last weekend's win against Blackburn Rovers. Portsmouth, still to pick up a single point this season, included Aruna Dindane, Tommy Smith, Michael Brown, Younes Kaboul, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Marc Wilson in their team. Not too surprising then that they’re in deep dirt. The referee was Alan Wiley.

Just as we were kicking off, someone spotted a Portsmouth fan wearing a Liverpool shirt in the North Stand to our right, leading to plenty of abusive chants in his direction from the Everton following. “I can’t understand why you’d do that” observed the fella next to me. Good point like. Can you imagine going to next weekends game at Stoke wearing, I don’t know, an Aston Villa shirt?

I thought Everton started a bit better than Portsmouth with Cahill probably coming closest with a speculative long-range half-volley which forced David James into action. Once Portsmouth settled down though, they appeared quite comfortable and were running Johnny Heitinga ragged. He was having an absolute ‘mare at right back and was bailed out a few times by Yobo and also by awful shooting by Dindane.

The Dutchman looked a little crocked for a while as he limped around though did pull himself together and toughen up a bit as the half wore on, and even turned creator on the stroke of half time when he hoofed forward a rather hopeful diagonal ball to Saha. Whilst the defence and David James hesitated, Saha took full advantage, controlling the ball and smashing it into the net to the delight of the jubilant Evertonians.

That’s seven goals for Saha this term now. Quite incredible really. I think this is the only time he’s been this fit at Everton and he’s simply unplayable at the moment.

Prior to that, both keepers had made decent saves, Howard coming off his line quickly and saving well when Dindane had an opening at goal, and Fellaini being denied by a smart David James save with his legs after excellent work by Osman. If anything we probably just shaded the first half though and were delighted to be going in 1-0 at the break.

At half-time, Portsmouth U-14 and U-16 girls teams were introduced to the crowd to parade some recent cups they won… at least some success for Portsmouth this season.

Portsmouth began the second half as though they meant business but, for all their efforts and endeavour, they just couldn’t make the breakthrough as Everton held firm. Once we’d weathered an early Portsmouth storm at the start of the second half, we appeared to be back on track when we kept the ball pretty comfortably for quite a period of time with Portsmouth running around frantically chasing shadows. You sensed a second, and probably sealing, second goal was imminent but it didn’t come, though Cahill did come close with a header from a corner cleared off the line by Tommy Smith.

The injury to Stephen Pienaar seemed to rock us back a bit. That was a strange injury as Pienaar went in a little high with his boot though Mokoena put his head a little low and somehow injured our South African in doing so.

Mick Raithbone came on to help out Pienaar and after a lengthy delay he returned to the pitch, though within a minute or two was in a heap on the floor again, clearly unable to continue. Jamie O’Hara unnecessarily took it upon himself to berate Pienaar before he was stretchered off to be replaced by Bilyaletdinov. As he was carried around the pitch the Portsmouth supporters also gave him a mouthful of abuse which was uncalled for…he was on a stretcher so was obviously in some serious pain.

Portsmouth made changes as they went for the jugular but Everton stood firm. Hibbert was drafted in to help out in defence to replace Osman and coped admirably, making some solid tackles and clearances. Still, Portsmouth created three clear headed chances — all of which were kept out: the first from Kaboul which struck Howard on the chest before popping wide; the second which was headed onto the crossbar; and the third which was cleared off the line by Leighton Baines.

Tommy Smith also came close with a speculative rebounded effort which just went wide of the post, whilst Yobo and Distin both made several last ditch clearances to keep out Portsmouth’s surge.

Everton held out the 5 minutes of stoppage time and we even had a decent chance of our own when substitute Jo had a run at goal but was denied by a decent Wilson tackle… though you never felt our Brazilian would score somehow. The final whistle went when Jo ran the ball into the corner, sending the travelling Evertonians into raptures. Get in there! A hard earned, though fortunate win.

I made a quick dart for the train station as soon as the whistle went as you can get trapped in Fratton Park for quite a while otherwise as there’s just not enough room for everyone to leave at the same time. Just as I arrived at the station my train to London Waterloo pulled up and I was back in London by 4.30pm.

A good day out…a good weekend, and nice to get one of those lucky wins in the bag!

Player Ratings:

  • Howard: Made a couple of good saves and was positive and confident throughout. 8
  • Baines: Had a solid game, including one crucial goal-line clearance. 8
  • Distin: Dealt with the boos very well and made several important clearances and interceptions. 8
  • Yobo: Had a good solid game. Is skippering well. 8
  • Heitinga: Was simply all over the place in the first half though improved. Seemed to gain confidence from his hoof forward that set up Saha’s goal. I think he’ll improve with games though. 5
  • Rodwell: Looked the business in the first half though faded badly in the second half. 6
  • Osman: A little quiet throughout. 5
  • Pienaar: Was having a good game until he picked up his injury. Christ I hope this isn’t another serious one. 6
  • Fellaini: Had a cracking game throughout. Looking better and better each game at the moment. 8
  • Cahill: Full of life and was a tad unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions. 7
  • Saha: My man of the match. When he’s in this mode he’s one of the best around. I just hope we can get a full season out of him. 9

Subs:

  • Bilyaletdinov (for Pienaar): Showed some classy touches but didn’t really get into the game. Will get better with time. 6
  • Hibbert (for Osman): Was excellent. Got straight into the game and defended brilliantly. Staking a good case for keeping his place in the team. 8
  • Jo (for Saha): Not on long but did cock up a decent opportunity late on. 5

Reader Comments

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Martin Mason
1   Posted 28/09/2009 at 15:55:03

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I’ve lost a bit of my negativity today so I think what you say is fair comment. I accept also that when it comes down to it the 3 points are everything. I just want them to try to make the break in class that they are almost capable of now without an investor. Saha’s goal was exceptional and now that he’s not so brittle he is proving to be a great buy; with the Yak back he can be used sparingly.
Ian Walsh
2   Posted 28/09/2009 at 16:06:44

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From your seat could you see how long the grass was??
Through the lush greenery we could only imagine that Osman and Fellani’s feet were somehow shackled or were possibly both wearing the new Nike “Desert” boots culminating in so many short passed balls it beggared belief.

Long grass – Inappropriate Desert footwear – Billy, ripping the shirt off his own back it was that warm – he is Russian you know!!

Global warming – who’d have thought we would witness it in the Premiership
Tony Marsh
3   Posted 28/09/2009 at 17:08:48

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Paul there is no doubting you are a great Evertonian but sometimes, mate, I just wish you would put the boot in a little bit more when it's deserved.

Osman gets a 5 and "a little bit quiet throughout" rating. Jesus wept... Osman was absolutely dreadful on Saturday, like he always is. One decent game in midweek against Hull reserves and all is forgiven by many.

This lad is consistently shite week after week and always keeps his place. I give up with him, I really do... and until our fans recognise what a waster he is and stop defending him, we will always be lumbered.

Saha rating spot on.
Keith Glazzard
4   Posted 28/09/2009 at 17:24:58

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As a Dutchman, John Heitinga will be considerably more aware of the difference between an accurate long crossfield pass and a ’hoof’ than many TW contributors seem to be.

Having passed the ball through the Portsmouth midfield many times only to be hacked down before getting into the box during most of the first half, our RB varied the play and cut out their ’robust’ midfield. Goal. Three points. Brilliant.

That is not -and never has been - something called ’hoofball’.

Ryan Scails
5   Posted 28/09/2009 at 18:14:03

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Here, here, Keith, I was thinking the same thing about Johnny... on the OS, there’s a recent interview after the Pompey match about him getting used to the pace of things. He wasn’t great the other day, but who besides a select few can say they were either? His crossfield ball was completely intentional and the combination won us the match.
Dan Brierley
6   Posted 28/09/2009 at 19:06:28

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Guys, I agree his cross-field ball went to the right area. But can you honestly say that it was an easy chance for Saha? It was only Saha’s brilliance that managed to get the ball down, and put it in the net. Apart from that, it was a speculative punt in the direction of our forward. If anything, I would have expected the defender and the keeper to have completely negated that long ball, which they had plenty of time to prepare for.

Apart from that, Heitinga did very little apart from making some short passes. I am willing to give him some time to adjust, but my honest opinion is that he has been by far the poorest signing we have made up to now.

I do hope he gets better, but can you learn to suddenly be quicker in a straight line, and when turning? Making mistakes linked with confidence, I can accept. But it's not confidence that makes you slow? I do have my doubts, but as always, I am happy to be proved wrong.

Admittedly I have never seen the guy play before (I don't judge via YouTube after watching a David Nugent compilation). But I am yet to see anything that really shows some kind of potential. I am not writing the guy off by any means, but at least Osman, Fellaini and the other group of seemingly inconsistent players demonstrate an occasional moment of brilliance?

Let's hope Heitinga has his day sooner rather than later, because on current form he is only in the side to get some experience. Not by merit.

Keith Glazzard
7   Posted 28/09/2009 at 21:04:32

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Dan - I believe Saha’s goal has been hailed by everybody as a brilliant example of the striker’s art. Heitinga’s pass would not have gone in on its own. Football’s like that.

If you’re waiting for a moment of brilliance from Heitinga, you’ve got a very, very long wait. You just missed the pass — yes pass, not a "speculative punt" as you put it — which sprung their defence. Hit from the angle of the half-way line to the angle of the box. Perfect. Look out for it next time, because you’ll see it again (or perhaps for the first time).

You say their defence should have done better, they should have "completely negated that long ball, which they had plenty of time to prepare for". They had spent 40 minutes without a long ball to deal with. When it came, they were totally unprepared. Brilliant variation of attack.

Personally, I can’t wait for Heitinga to settle into the PL and our club. How many minutes has he played so far?

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