Monday, 22 December 2014

All the threes...

Three games
Three goals for
Three goals against
Three draws
Three points
That's the sum of Paul Buckle's opening trio of league games.
Solid and unspectacular it has been, but I don't think there is any question that we have improved on where we were when he came in.
I know we haven't won a game yet, but we haven't lost one, and we haven't crumbled - instead we have shown a backbone and a bit of resilience that was missing in the Stevenage and Wycombe games.
We don't look like being rolled over easily, we have defended a lot better and all over the field the work ethic has been much improved from the last weeks of Mark Yates' reign.
There are no excuses either. It's not going to change overnight, he says. We won't suddenly go from losing 4-1 and 5-1 to winning games in style, he says - yet I get the feeling some fans expect us to.
He has to put foundations into place and that has to start from the back with us not conceding shedloads of goals. There is no other option.
We haven't had a clean sheet for 14 league games - since Morecambe - the longest run of anyone in the Football League, so it's not rocket science that he wants to address that as a priority.
In the last two games, we have conceded to a speculative long-range volley that goes in once out of, say, 20 attempts, and then to a deflected shot which went in off the bar.
Compared to some of the goals we were letting in against Stevenage and Wycombe, and in some games before that, it has to be considered as progress.
We were not exactly creating chance after chance in the last weeks of Mark Yates' reign so it is unreasonable to expect us to start doing so straightaway under Buckle.
Even more so with two senior out-and-out strikers at his disposal and that will have to be a priority for January - but we must not get carried away with the idea that this month ahead is going to suddenly turn our season around with some kind of magic wand. It won't.
He will look to add a few bodies, maybe three at the outside I would guess, but the bulk of the team will still be those who have been here all season.
It will be evolution, not revolution, so anyone expecting the solid, unspectacular stuff to magically disappear on January 3 will have to be disappointed I'm afraid. It will be a very gradual process.
There seems to be a perception somewhere that the manager has some sort of massive January pot of money to spend - a pot which Mark Yates wouldn't have had.
I don't think Yates can say he wasn't backed by the board - practically every time he went to them and asked for reinforcements, he was allowed.
Buckle has what little money there was from the FA Cup and a little bit more which seems to have been forthcoming from the mystery man who put in the 500k a few seasons ago.
And I also suspect that there might be a little suggestion from the board that a player or two going out might not be such a bad thing either.
Jason Taylor being left out for the last two games suggests he might be top of that list - but I don't forsee a queue of takers and I don't see us just deciding to hand him a wedge of cash to pack his bags. I hope not anyway.
The manager has seen Taylor in training every day, so seems to have made his mind up about him. It is a slight surprise to me I must admit, as if anyone in our team typifies solid and unspectacular, it's Jason Taylor.
Another who does that is his namesake Matt - and he was outstanding on Saturday. He won just about every header he competed for, put his body on the line a few times and put in a real captain's performance.
Portsmouth really came on strong in the second half, especially the first 25 minutes or so, but it was mainly down to him, backed up well it has to be said by Troy Brown, who kept their direct goal threats to a minimum despite their territorial superiority.
Did Trevor Carson really have that much to do? I can only remember one save - right at the very end by his near post. I know Paul Jones wasn't exactly heavily occupied either, and all in all I thought a draw was about right.
I felt the first half was even. They started well but I felt we finished the half stronger although neither side had really threatened a goal until Omari Sterling-James put us ahead.
Our formation screamed resilience as Lee Vaughan was back and Omari came in with Byron Harrison dropped and Terry Gornell up front on his own.
Slightly surprising, but it was the hard work of Terry ahead of the languidity of Byron. Terry got little change out of the Pompey defence and had a thankless task, but I thought he applied himself very well and put a good shift in.
Vaughan had an up and down game. He got himself into some good positions up the field but his crossing was poor - or there was never anyone to hit - and defensively he was found wanting at times.
Taylor was outstanding and Brown mostly solid, while Craig Braham-Barrett had another good game - one of his best I felt when playing in a flat back four - as we know he struggled in that system last season.
He didn't get forward as much as he has in previous games, but did set the goal up and kept up his high performance level this season.
Up against Jed Wallace early on, he looked after him well, so much so that Wallace switched wings late in the first half to try his luck against Vaughan.
There were still concerns about our midfield. Still we move the ball too slowly, still we tend to get caught upfield and lose the ball, exposing us to a counter attack, and the quality of our passing is not generally good enough and we turn over possession too easily at times.
Again it was disappointing to see Kane Ferdinand employed wide on the right, but I thought he had a better game, but again Raffa de Vita disappointed me.
He worked hard enough, but he doesn't impose himself on games enough for me. I am sure he is a player who can be effective for us, but the manager needs to find his best role - otherwise with a desire to bring players in and his deal ending, it may end up being bye bye and thanks.
Omari has his new deal safely tucked away, and celebrated it with a start, a very well-taken goal, and unfortunately what proved to be a very crucial miss as well.
He is a hard-working player, and for his size he isn't afraid to get himself stuck in and that attitude will endear him to the manager. He won two or three decent flick-ons against players four or five inches taller, and showed good body strength on occasions as well.
His goal showed a refreshing confidence. He was surrounded by a couple of players and could have taken the easy option of a lay-off, but decided to take the bull by the horns and got his rewards for it - just like Zack last week.
It was another example of a young player showing no fear and backing their ability, and I hope to see more of that. I won't criticise players for having a go - can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket, and I've seen too much shilly-shallying on the edge of the box this season - one more pass? No. Shoot!
Omari's new contract, and that for Zack Kotwica and Joe Hanks as well is a refreshing change from the usual policy of waiting and waiting until the summer, then scrambling around to get the players we want to keep to sign their deals.
I saw a report saying Hull were looking at Hanks the other day. I am always a little sceptical about these things, and suspect maybe an agent at work hoping to hurry a new contract along. Well done. It worked... not that Joe isn't a good player as he most certainly is and fully deserves the deal.
Good to see the club being pro-active, and good to see that Buckle seems serious about letting our young players develop. Those three aside, we have Harry Williams and Bobbie Dale on the bench, with Adam Powell and James Bowen waiting as well.
Harry has had a run-out and Bobbie was ready to come on right at the end at the weekend, and I hope their deals are next in line as we cannot just discard them.
Players do not develop at 18 - they can flourish later and we need to invest that time in them and not expect it all to happen straight away.
They all need gradual exposure to first-team football but the manager will need to be sensible and pragmatic with them. All I have been asking for is for them to have a chance - not just sidelined and told they aren't ready or aren't worth bothering about.
Further up the ladder, Harry Kane is 21 and only just establishing himself in Spurs' team after several loan moves, while Ryan Mason is 23 and has been a pro there since 2008 but only now is he getting his first-team chance after five loans.
We saw Jack Whatmough on Saturday. He is 18, and I am sure that if Pompey don't go up in the next season or two, he could well be off to a higher level. I thought he was quality, even if he does like like he should be hanging ten at Fistral beach.
Youngsters can flourish at this level and we need to make sure we benefit when they do come into full flower. Yes, we all want Zack to start every week, and I think under this manager his chance to do that will come, but we just need a bit of patience.
At least now they are being taken a little more seriously at first-team level, and that confidence being placed in them by Buckle and Rob Edwards is bearing fruit with the goals for Zack and Omari.
He will use them, and he will do so at the expense of more senior players. No more being picked on reputation as Jason Taylor and Byron Harrison have discovered recently, with Hanks and Omari dislodging them from the team.
He knows what he wants, and expects from his players and seems to have a plan. Work hard and show the right attitude and you will succeed. Otherwise it's cheerio. It's his way or the highway.