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West Ham United v Portsmouth

Filed: Friday, 9th September 2011
By: Preview Percy

Now that the schools have gone back, the police are baffled as to why the levels of anti-social behaviour have actually increased in the vicinity of a certain care home. We're not ones to point the finger but surely the fact that Preview Percy is back from the international break cannot be wholly coincidental. Meanwhile here's the old sod's ramblings on this weekend's match against Portsmouth....

Ok I’m officially confused. Not by the fact that our next visitors are Portsmouth. More by the fact that a) It’s taking place on Saturday; b) It’s a 3pm kick-off and c) The good people at TfL haven’t scheduled engineering works for Upton Park for the weekend. An administrative oversight on their part no doubt.

Our visitors arrive in a sort of mid table mood lying as they do in 12th spot with 6 points from their opening five fixtures. At home they have a 1-1-1 record having beaten Reading (1-0), drawn with Cardiff (1-1) and lost to Brighton (0-1). On the road they’ve drawn both matches at Boro’ (2-2) and at Bristol City (0-0). This leaves them second of a gang of four teams on 6 points below Millwall and above Hull and Ipswich on goal difference. There again just about everyone has a better goal difference than Ipswich.

The boss is Steve Cotterill. Cotterill joined the club in June 2010 having just guided Notts County to the 4th Division/League 2/whatever title. However, it was at Cheltenham, who he guided into the league, and later Burnley where he first earned managerial plaudits. On leaving Burnley the “coveted” Minnsota Thunder job was his for the taking but it all fell through when it was discovered that “Thunder” (as I believe they are known to their supporter) only wanted him for a seven week trial, and that for two of those weeks he wouldn’t be allowed into the US until his work permit was sorted out. Cotterill decided that he didn’t need the duty free that much and, understandably, pulled out of the deal preferring to get involved in something a bit more long-term, like the whole three months that Notts County gave him.

To say Cotterill has had limited resources at Fratton Park is a bit like saying that it’s been a bit noisy in Libya of late. Their relegation from the Premiership in 2010 was accompanied by the unwanted record of becoming the first Premier League club to enter administration, a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that Peter Ridsdale had had no involvement in the club. They are currently owned by an organisation belonging to Russian Vladimir Antonov whose personal wealth from banking and car manufacture is significant, though not in the Abrahamovic league. All may not be sweetness and light in the Antonov world with SAAB, with whom he is connected, currently seeking bankruptcy protection. Like us they’re used to the odd storm cloud on the financial horizon – though they seem to have had more than their fare share impecunious – and in some cases downright dodgy - owners. HM Revenue & Customs,for example, still await their day in court over allegations relating to the era of Milan Mandaric, Peter Storrie and Harry Redknapp.

The arrival of what appears to be some stability meant that this summer saw them pay out their first transfer fee since the January 2010 window, when Jamie Pearce came along the coast from Bournemouth for a fee of somewhere between £300,000 and £600,000 the difference presumably being in the form of add-ons. Pearce started out at Pompey but failed to make the first XI, leaving for Dean Court in 2007.

In goal the first choice is Jamie Ashdown. Since arriving from Reading in 2004 Ashdown has seen a number of keepers come and go including the likes of ex-Hammers Hislop and James. Ashdown was on the bench when they won the 2008 FA Cup Final, picking up a winners' medal in the process. However, he didn't have the medal for long with some lowlife stealing it from his hotel during the post-match celebrations.

Former Colchester full back Greg Halford signed a permanent deal this summer having spent most of the year on loan from Wolves. Portsmouth are his seventh club in the last four years, those clubs being Colchester, Reading, Sunderland, Charlton, Sheffield United, Wolves and now Pompey. He at least seems more settled at Fratton Park than he was at either Reading or at Sunderland, both of whom were happy to see the back of the player within six months of his arrival. I haven’t seen much of him on the box in recent years – let’s face it I’d rather have my toenails pulled out than willingly watch Sheffield United - but he used to have a long throw of Delap proportions in the past.

The skipper is Liam Lawrence who joined from Stoke in the summer of 2010. The transfer was a bit of a cock-up if truth be told. The deal saw him arrive with ex-Reading striker Dave Kitson in return for Marc Wilson going the other way. Well that was the idea, anyway. In fact someone discovered that the paperwork hadn't been completed on time and, not being Arsenal, Pompey had to sign the player on an emergency loan a few days later, the full transfer eventually going through during the January 2011 window. Lawrence has his own place in football injury folklore having damaged ankle ligaments when being tripped up by his dog, though, since he was a Stoke player at the time, it was almost certainly a dive.

There is a familiar face in midfield in the form of Hayden Mullins, who spent six or so years at the Boleyn before leaving for Pompey in 2009. Mullins was famously cheated out of an appearance in the 2006 Cup Final by some typical Liverpool play-acting from Luis Garcia who went down as if shot when Mullins looked at him in a funny way. Mullins finally got a Cup Final appearance in 2010 as part of the Pompey team that went down 1-0 to Chelsea in 2010. Mullins picked up Pompey’s player of the year award last season.

Another ex-Hammer in the squad is defender Tal Ben-Haim who spent the first half of last season on loan at the Boleyn. However, he failed to find favour with his compatriot Avram Grant and he returned to Fratton Park in January 2011. That was when things really went pear-shaped for the player. Due to the club's financial problems it was alleged that he was owed something like £1.5m in unpaid wages, bonuses and what-have-you. This left him in some sort of limbo whereby we didn’t want him and Pompey either couldn't or wouldn't select him depending on which version you believe. It all looked like going to some sort of Football Tribunal when the Russian takeover meant there was suddenly cash in the coffers to arrange a settlement. All is now sweetness and light and he is now fully restored to the starting line-up.

The aforementioned Kitson is a player who seemed to be on the verge of bigger things during his heyday with Reading. However, a big money move to Stoke left him scratching his head muttering “what am I doing here” and his career hasn't ever really recovered from what the player himself described with much understatement as a “bad decision”.

Kitson's strike partner has been Luke Varney who arrived from Derby in the close season. Varney, a one time strike partner of Dean Ashton in his Crewe days, spent last season on loan at Blackpool. At one stage Ian Holloway abandoned his usual reluctance to talk to the press to inform the world that there was a “massive clause” in Varney's loan contract that would allow the Tangerines to sign the player permanently for a knock-down fee of £250,000. This came as news to Derby who had a few bob more in mind – and not necessarily from Blackpool either. Pompey ended up paying £750,000 for the player in the last window.

Varney was replaced towards the end of their last match against Cardiff by veteran striker Kanu whose header with ten minutes left was enough to earn his side a point. Hard to believe that he's been at Fratton Park for something like five years now having escaped Arsenal for West Brom as long ago as 2004. He was far from a regular last season and reports suggest that the last deal he signed was more with an eye to the player taking a more active role on the coaching side of things.

Another option up front is former Blackburn striker Benjani. The Zimbabwean arrived on a free last month which kick-started his second spell with the club having been at Man City, Sunderland and Blackburn in the three years since his departure. It may be my imagination or just my failing memory but it always seemed to me that we were linked with the player at every transfer window. His original arrival at Fratton Park from French outfit Auxerre was one of those transfers about which the infamous Stevens report expressed serious concerns. There were probably complex reasons for these concerns but frankly as soon as I noted the names Willy McKay and Harry Redknapp on my copy of the report I decided to wait until it came out on DVD. Eventually Pompey were fined £15,000 over irregularities relating to both the player’s initial arrival and his subsequent departure to Man City.

As for us, well the international break seems to have left us pretty unscathed. Collison came off early in the England v Wales snoozeathon having had a viral infection earlier in the week. Rob Green’s finger injury that kept him off the bench at Wembley should have healed enough for him to be available. Since I last etched tablets of stone, Parker has gone of course, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can become the first player to win consecutive Footballer Of The Year Awards from relegation battles.

Coming in before the window finally closed, we welcome Guy Demel, Henri Lansbury, David Bentley, Sam Baldock, Brian Montenegro and Papa Bouba Diop. Demel, a permanent signing, can play at right back or right midfield and had a “blink and you’ll have missed it” spell at Arsenal ten years ago which came to an abrupt end when he announced that he was so homesick for France he would be heading back to, er Germany.

Lansbury – henceforth to be known in these parts as Angela because it’s a) obvious, and b) slightly less girly than spelling Henry that way – has had an impressive week with the England U21s picking up a couple in the 6-0 demolition of Azerbaijan and another on the subsequent 4-1 defeat of Israel. He’s in on a season long loan.

Bentley has also come in for the season. Many moons ago he seemed to had a bright future ahead of him but blotted his copybook by pulling out of an England U21 tour citing fatigue. Since then he has featured only infrequently at international and things went from bad to worse for the player when he was, tragically, transferred from Blackburn to Spurs. He’ll be hoping to revive his career at the Boleyn.

Sam Baldock’s transfer was in the process of going through when I last wrote. At 5’7” tall he is the sort of small, nippy striker that we at the Avram Grant Home for the Bewildered have been crying out for since Bellamy went. Whether or not he has the talent to step up a level remains to be seen – though a goal against Norwich in the League Cup suggests that the potential is there. However, the fact that we’ve signed a striker who isn’t a twelve foot tall target man is, in itself, refreshing.

Montenegro, a 18 year old Paraguayan is also in on loan and is described as the sort of player who likes to run at defenders. What none of the biographies that my – admittedly limited – research has been able to explain is quite how he came across the first name “Brian” so, in the style of all those Bob Holness/Baker Street saxophone rumours, I shall insist that it’s because his parents were Hammers fans in the 1960’s who never forgot the five goals in 20 minutes that Brian Dear scored against West Brom.

Papa Bouba Diop is at the other end of the age scale. He first came to prominence in a World Cup a few years ago whereupon website moderator Rio remarked on the similarity of the player’s name to a lyric sung by Cleo Laine. He’s the sort of player that Mr Allardyce is quite fond of, though I’d have thought, no make that hoped, his signing will see him acting as more of a squad player than being first name on the team sheet.

It’s difficult to work out quite who will start this one. The central defensive partnership picks itself I suppose – it being the one area where we still look a bit short in depth. Linda will start at left back with Ilunga reportedly failing to agree a move to Celtic before the deadline. Given the boss’s usual preference to give new signings a bedding-in period (see Linda, Carew etc) I reckon O’Brien – who has done ok thus far – will get the nod at right back.

There’s an embarrassment of riches in midfield where you can perm any three four or five from Nolan, Noble, Collison, Taylor, Sears (if you’re playing him there), Lansbury, Bentley, Faubert, PBD or Demel. Again those in possession of the shirts after the Forest game are favourites to start again whilst the new boys find their feet. Up front well we now have Cole, Piquionne, Sears (if you play him there). Baldock, Carew and Montenegro. To be honest I haven’t a Scooby as to how he’ll sort out the selection from that lot , though you’d expect under normal circumstances to see more of the new signings in the match after this one. However that one may not be one for faint hearts.

Prediction? Well I think that the home jinx/hoodoo/issue whatever you want to call it has been overplayed a bit. Having said that, it’s probably no bad thing that the last minute cave in against Leeds was followed up with a profitable away trip at Forest and an international break. If there is a psychological thing about playing at the Boleyn, the fresh start and the addition of new faces ought to have a galvanising effect. So I reckon we’re due a home win and a decent one at that. 3-1 to us as we slowly move up through the gears.

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met: Their last visit to the Boleyn was on Boxing Day 2009 as a Diamante penalty and a late Kovac header saw us run out 2-0 winners in a Premier League relegation six pointer. The visitors included both Freddie Piquionne and Papa Bouba Diop in their squad. PBD was absent from the 18 a month later as a goal off Upson’s shoulder earned us a 1-1 draw in the return fixture at Fratton Park, a match more notable for the fact that it marked the first game of the SuGoBra era.

Player To Watch: Dave Kitson – more by default than anything really. With only four goals in their five matches in the league so far their better performers have all been engaged in defensive roles. Kitson’s the type of awkward so and so who scores against us (and probably nobody else).

Referee: Roger East – Another new one on us. Apparently he managed to get through Exeter’s 2-0 victory over Yeovil on the opening day of the season without issuing a yellow card. Not bad for a local derby of sorts.

Daft fact of the week: Nwankwo Kanu’s first name means “boy who was born on market day” which is amusing if not quite as amusing as what most of you were probably thinking.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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