How to switch ends of the table - the Redknapp way…
What a difference a year makes in this game. While life is happy sitting in the top six, it could have been oh-so-different if Pedro Mendes hadn`t lashed home that wonder goal to gain the momentum that eventually kept Portsmouth safe.
Upon realising that we are playing West Ham on Boxing Day this year, I took a look at the team sheet for the corresponding fixture 12 months ago, where Pompey also faced the Hammer straight after Christmas, albeit at Fratton rather than Upton Park.
The difference is almost terrifying. To think that Alain Perrin believed this to be an IMPROVEMENT on the team the year before, and the squad on which to build success almost beggars belief.
Here are the players laid side-by-side in terms of position, and I`ll leave it up to you to work out whether the top-six side or the relegation candidates are better. Hmmm:
Jamie Ashdown - David James
Dejan Stefanovic - Glen Johnson
Linvoy Primus - Linvoy Primus
Andy O`Brien - Sol Campbell
Andy Griffin - Noe Pamarot
Matthew Taylor - Matthew Taylor
Gary O`Neil - Pedro Mendes
Richard Hughes - Sean Davis
Laurent Robert - Gary O`Neil
Lomano Lualua - Nwankwo Kanu
Dario Silva - Mwaruwari Benjani
It doesn`t need a sports analyst to tell you that the new team is miles and miles better than the previous one.
But if you look a little closer, you`ll see very little is actually different. The key points that have revitalised and revolutionised the side are:
-A resolute and solid back four, which has come from Glen Johnson playing at right back rather than just using a central defender in that position as there is nobody else. Also Linvoy Primus, who has been a fantastic servant over the years, has finally found his partner in Sol Campbell to form a decent partnership, and that hasn`t been seen since the De Zeeuw / Stefenovic days. Plus, don`t forget we still have our captain to come back and regain his place in defence.
-Pedro Mendes and Sean Davis have proved a revelatory pairing in the middle of the park. Although I won`t hear a word said against Richard Hughes` commitment to the club, he is a strong, tough tackling type of midfielder, which means his skill on the ball is slightly off. The new pairing has skill, flair and defensive nous, which is vital in the engine room. Plus they can crack them in from miles out, which is a bonus.
-Matt Taylor is getting a decent run in midfield. He has been playing well in defence, but since pushing on to the left side of midfield, has proved nothing short of sensational, as the two wonder-goals and a possible England call up will attest to. He is young, and working him there over a season is going to yield startling results.
-A decent partnership up-front. Although lacking in firepower at the moment because of injuries, the pairing of Benjani and Kanu is playing well, and complementing each other. Andy Cole and Lomano Lualua are excellent back up, and any combination of the four is likely to do well, which is a very VERY hard thing to do. Last season we relied on midfield to find us some goals, and though they are still doing that, and doing that well, the strikers are striking too this season. Which is what they are supposed to do, but Pompey haven`t always managed to find it (with some obvious notable exceptions, Yakubu, Whittingham etc..)
-And finally, the Redknapp revolution. Still an unpopular comment in some quarters, but the return of Redknapp is still one of the best things to happen at Pompey. I said to my Liverpool ( /glory)-supporting flat-mate at the time of his return (who for some reason was really excited about the re-appointment) that is Redknapp was ever to get back some respect or even acceptance from the fans, he would have to revolutionise the team, and get us playing in Europe.
I said this fairly tongue-in-cheek, because I thought we were probably down and out when he took over given the squad quality. The only way any manager could do that would be to put his heart and soul into the team. But he has got the best out of the good players we had, bought stunningly well in January, and put his stamp on a brand new team over the summer. Without him, we`d be playing Hull City this weekend chaps…
Oh, and one final thing, and this is a bit of a pat on the back for us Pompey fans. (Nothing wrong with self-adulation). Benjani came to us as a record signing, having scored a fair few goals in Ligue 1. He arrived and promptly scored none when we needed goals more than anything. BUT not once have we turned on him, lambasted him for being a Heskey-style player, or criticised his goal tally.
And that is because the lad works and works his socks off and it`s there for all to see. He played a major part in keeping us up too, and continues to be the one who can bamboozle defences and create holes for Kanu, Taylor et al to shoot and score from.
In this media-driven game, the fact he`s not been dropped for not scoring regularly is nothing short of a miracle, and that`s down to managerial and fan support. The Zimbabwean doing good.