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My Pompey preview: Optimism tinged with a touch of I'm not sure what...
Thursday, 10th Aug 2017 17:08 by Steve Bone

Oh, has the season started? Well someone could have told me. It's far too early for proper football in my opinion, and when I've said as much on the Twitter machine in recent weeks, I've had plenty of backing and not one dissenting voice. Perhaps that because the people who follow me are all old long-in-the-tooth duffers like me.

When I started watching Pompey (1981) the first league game (home to Lincoln, 1-1, Billy Raffery scored for us) was on August 29. It was the first day of three points for a win and the first time Alan Knight was starting the season as No1 keeper, having dislodged Peter Mellor. And Swansea went top of the old first division, or the first division as it was known in those days, thanks to Alan Curtis and Bob Latchford.

Yes, August 29. Perfect. The first league programme should always be on the final weekend of August. The rest of August can be for friendlies for those who, unlike me, are desperate for a football fix that early. And the final league programme of the campaign should be on the first Saturday in May, followed by the FA Cup final a week later. At 3pm. (And the European Cup final can go back to being on the midweek before). That would leave a good long summer for cricket, flat racing and other summer pursuits that get overshadowed by football coming back too soon.

Anyhow, people with more power than me are - unfortunately - currently the ones deciding when the season starts and, for now and probably forever, it's ridiculously early. So on August 10 we gind ourselves two games into the season and out of one cup already.

Everyone else with an interest in Pompey seems to have done their little look already so you'll have to forgive me for being last to arrive at this particular party.

It's been three months since I gave up campaigning for fans to vote against the end of the fan ownership era. I felt strongly that we, as a fan base, should not - at least not yet - be giving up on the fan-owned dream before we'd given it a chance to evolove, to see where and how far it could take us. And to see if we, as the biggest fan-owned club around, might just effect a little change for the better in our national game.

My views were very much of the minority type. Trying to convince people to vote against the takeover was something I'm glad I did, and something I would do again now if we were still having the debate. But it was a lost cause. Four in every five wanted a new start, wanted to his the ejector-seat button on our little pleasure flight, and they got their way. And, as I said at the time, the Eisners and their associates should be congratulated on a very slick and well-run PR campaign. If they run the club like they ran their bid to find favour among fans, we''ll be fine.

But I have to confess, at the moment, my heart's not in it quite as much as it would be if Pompey was still ours, in the legal sense. I mean, it is still ours, of course. Mr Eisner might have the keys but he knows as well as we do that without us he has nothing. But it's not ours in actual fact and real life any more, is it? And I know i'm far from alone in being a little sad at that.

Having said that, I'm still looking forward to getting back to my old seat on the north lower and checking that, by and large, all the same people are in all the same seats around me. I don't know many of them, and rarely speak to most of them, but I hope they're still there. I like continuity.

And it is impossible not to be just at least a teeny little bit optimsitic about the season ahead. I saw only one pre-season game - Brett Pitman's scoring debut in a 2-0 win at Bognor - and it was workmanlike and professional without ever being exciting. But the whole build-up to the season under Kenny Jackett has been impressive. I like his style - business-like, straightforward, no-nonsense, effective. Already you can see why he has had success in most of the football roles he has held.

His signings so far appear shrewd ones. In Pitman we may have a striker who doesn't look particularly athletic and does not have the pace of many in the division. But in Pitman we have a player who can - and will - score goals at this level. The two he struck to see off Rochdale o n day one tell you that. If he stays fit he will be our top scorer and could be the 20-goal man fans have craved for the past few years, even when others were combining to score enough goals to carry us to the League Two title.

Luke McGee, albeit in early days, looks an excellent keeper and, now Tareiq Holmes-Dennis has suffered such cruel luck with injury, we can expect another left-back and a central midfielder to arrive before the window shuts.

I was a fan of Paul Cook and was sorry to see him go. He did himself no favours with his emotional 'I never want to leave this club' quote after we'd won the title but I don't buy into the unseemly stuff that had fans abusing him and rewriting history ('We won the title despite Cook not because of him', some said, and I found that churlish at best, deeply insulting at worst) after he had gone. I for one will applaud him when he comes back with Wigan.

However, moving from Cook to Jackett does feel like an upgrade. I think we'd have survived in Leaugue One with Cook; I think we'll do more than that with Jackett.

The bookies always seem to over-egg the Pompey pudding and appear to have us down as second or third favourites for the title, but then these are the same people who thought we'd walk League Two in both 13-14 and 14-15 and we, err, didn't quite manage it. I can't see us winning it and I'm not sure I can even see us making the play-offs, though I think we could well be in the top half of the division for more days than we not.

Although... this is Pompey we are talking about, and when I was asked for a snap verdict on how we'd do the other week, before I'd really given it any thought, I did find myself replying 'It's Pompey innit, we'll either win the league or avoid relegation with a game to spare.' Rarely it is dull; rarely does a Blues season peter out.

It's funny - I watch two teams on a regular basis and they are, at different levels of the game - enjoying mirror images of one another's existence at the moment. The other team is Bognor, who got up last season a year after a late-goal play-off semi-final heartbreaker; lost their manager a few days after promotion was sealed and have had a positive start to life in the higher division (National League South, in their case) after seeing season tickets fly off the shelves.

If Pompey can get themselves in the top eight a month into the season, who knows where they might be at its end? Fratton Park will be full, or very close to it, for every home game and it looks like more than a few L1 grounds' away ends will have their capacity tested by our visits. Having a big fan base guarantees little, but it can give you an edge if you can use it to your advantage and build momentum, as Cook's troops did at the end of last season.

I thought Pitman was an odd choice of captain, but Jackett knows more about him and the other contenders than I do and it might just be a master-stroke. I was hoping Danny Rose would get the armband. I thought he was one of our finest and most consistent performers last season and it was telling how quickly his omission was shown to be a mistake in early spring.

Carl Baker, Kyle Bennett and Conor Chaplin all seem to fit the Jackett bill and are easily good enough to prosper in League One, though the evenutal choice of who sits in the middle alongside Rose is a vital one. Jackett perhaps has doubts that the likes of Adam May or Ben Close are ready for such responsibility just yet, but I do hope both get their chances to blossom. And I have every faith in Kal Naismith and Milan Lalkovic forcing their way into the team at some point - both are superb examples of what perseverance can bring.

At the back we should be okay once Holmes-Dennis has been replaced. A choice of four centre-halves is what we'll have once Matt Clarke is fit, with Gareth Evans looking like being under-studied by forgotten man Drew Talbot at right-back, or perhaps permanently replaced by him if Jackett decides Evans' talents are best used wide right.

If pushed for a precise prediction I will go for us to finish 10th - and I shouldn't think too many will be upset by that. Only as the season goes on will we get an idea of Eisner's ambitions and ownership style, but from what he has said so far, it would be odd if he too were unhappy with any sort of top-half finish in his first season.

I suppose most people's ideal scenario is for a stable few years in which we assert ourselves in League One and then take our chance in the Championship. But, as hinted at earlier, this is Pompey and they've not always been the best at ideal scenarios.

Play Up Pompey.

by Steve Bone

Follow @stevebone1 on Twitter and read his Pompey thoughts here and in the Sports Mail and pompey programme throughout the season. (That's a suggestion, not an order).


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