Reserves: Pompey 3-0 West Ham
Tuesday 29-09-09, 7pm
You could perhaps have forgiven Steve Finnan - a Champions League winner with Liverpool - for thinking himself above this fixture. With a crowd probably numbering fewer than Finnan has had Premier League appearances, tonight's reserve game at Havant's Westleigh Park must have seemed like a step down for someone who, two years ago, was playing against AC Milan in Athens' Olympic Stadium. Credit to him then, when even before the match had started tonight he was the Portsmouth player putting in the most effort. Evident even in the warm up, Finnan looked fiercely determined, really putting the effort in - it's clear that after his injury, he wants to be back in contention for those big games with Portsmouth, and fast.
As if his early enthusiasm had resonated throughout the whole team then, Portsmouth were off to a flyer when Gael Nlundulu curled past the Hammers' keeper after just a few minutes. Danny Webber headed the ball down to his feet and the striker produced a finish of the highest quality and make a goal from almost nothing - 1-0 Portsmouth.
Indeed it was Webber's link-up play that was one of the decisive features in this match. He was always looking to bring the other strikers into play, creating a lot of chances for the team, and we were a better side for having him on. Though his own opportunities at goal were limited, what he brought to the team and the players around him was invaluable.
Defensively we looked safe as well, with Niemi keeping out a dangerous looking Frank Nouble time and time again. Finnan and Williamson swept up any trouble that the two less experienced defenders found themselves in, though in fairness the left back Lennard Sowah looked very competent himself. Williamson had a very good game actually - unlikely to be dislodging Kaboul in the heart of our first team's defence any time soon, but would certainly be more than capable back-up.
Paris Cowan-Hall looked lively as ever - he skipped past Anthony Edgar with such ease in fact that the he was cynically brought down by the West Ham midfielder with a very late challenge. Cowan-Hall seemed to take exception to this though and raised his hands to the player and earned himself a booking. That temper will be a side of his game he'll need to cut out if he's to get the chance to translate some good reserve performances to the first team.
Going in 1-0 at half time, it had to be noted that of our front three, it was not the player with the most Premier League exposure so far that had excelled. Piquionne had, to this point, looked very poor. His touch was very, very sloppy, and was struggling to connect with his passing. Worryingly, he looked as short of enthusiasm as he did of confidence - fair enough, it was only a friendly, but if Steve Finnan can motivate himself for this game, Piquionne should be doing so as well. Particularly in our current situation, we need players we can rely on to give 100% no matter what the conditions - if we find ourselves playing away at Hull or Stoke on a rainy weekday evening, can we count on him to give it his all?
Nlundulu continued what had been a good performance in the first half into the second, surging into the West Ham half at pace whenever he had the ball at his feet, and it was this that led to Portsmouth's second goal - Nlundulu raced forward, delivered the ball to Steve Finnan, who then put in a fantastic cross for Piquionne to poke in with a simple header.
It wasn't until Portsmouth's third goal that Piquionne really stepped up a gear, bursting through on goal, muscling past two defenders, and calmly slotting home. Having scored once, he seemed to find his confidence again, and finally looked the player he should against a team of reserve players.
Come injury time he actually went off injured and didn't return to the pitch - whether anything serious I'm not sure, but I suspect he was simply left off the pitch as a precaution (with only a few seconds remaining), and not replaced as we'd already used all three subs. Even if we assume he's fully fit though, I'm actually not sure he did enough today to earn back his starting place for Saturday, despite his two goals. I think the official site is very flattering with their suggestion that he "shone" tonight, because until the 70th minute he actually looked out of his depth, and outshone by Danny Webber. On the basis of this performance I'd start at Wolves with Webber partnering Aruna Dindane up front - but Piq's two goals tonight may be enough of a lift for him to impress in training and give Paul Hart a selection headache. One thing's for sure though - he can't go missing like this again, he needs to want to play for the shirt if he's to get the chance to wear it.
PLAY UP POMPEY!