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Nationwide Division One, 9/9/00
By Matt Rowson

Don't let them tell you that anti-malarial tablets "aren't really that bad". That's what they told me. I believed them. They were wrong.

I'm now suffering from the full whack...started out slowly with stomach cramps, then splitting headaches and now a giddy, disorientating nausea. It's just tremendous, I can tell you - reason enough for a holiday to East Africa all on its own.

So all things considered, it's quite appropriate that the Hornets face Portsmouth this weekend, encounters with whom have provoked similar sensations in so many Watford fans over the years. I haven't been exposed to Fratton Park often enough to share my co-editor's complete disdain for and distrust of the place - in particular, the assertion that "it always bloody rains" wasn't really supported by the roasting we received there two Augusts ago.

Nonetheless, encounters at Vicarage Road have provided more than enough reason not to look forward to these meetings. The 0-0 non-event two years ago and the stomach-churning Easter defeat the year we went down, to name but two.

Even the vociferous Pompey fans have, over recent seasons, not been able to enjoy watching their side particularly, subjected as they have been to the curses of both the ludicrous Terry Fenwick and the pitiful Alan Ball. Club chairman Milan Mandaric, who was central in the rescuing of the club two years ago, has provided considerable funds for transfers, much of it spent by Ball and now depreciating rapidly in Pompey's reserves.

Present incumbent of the manager's chair Tony Pulis is hardly likely to add to the attractiveness of this spectacle. One commentator on a Pompey Message Board this week spoke earnestly of the need for Portsmouth to distinguish themselves from the workhorse sides in Division One. Inevitably, however, the workhorse mantle is almost certainly what Portsmouth, the joint-longest serving tenants of this division, can expect from Pulis. Whilst even this may be seen as a welcome relief from the relegation scraps of the last few years, the combination of Pulis' abrasive character, dour football and defeats at the hand of ex-Southampton strikers may well tell eventually.

In goal for Pompey will be former Leicester and Derby keeper Russell Hoult, with cover provided by Aaron "Flappy" Flahavan.

Those who remember our encounters with Gillingham in Division Two will be unsurprised that Pompey's defence is also recruited on the willingness to put the boot into a bull elephant and shoulder-barge a Sherman Tank. Justin Edinburgh at left back is still only thirty-one and still ugly. Captain Darren Moore, a star of Bradford's promotion side, carries a bulk of almost sixteen stone and knows how to use it. Alongside him, Linvoy Primus was a Bosman signing from Reading over the summer. Currently at right-back is temperamental Shaun Derry, more frequently a midfielder. He is preferred to Jason Crowe, a 750,000 Alan Ball signing from Arsenal and one of many such disappointments that Pulis isn't allowing anywhere near the first team. Another option at the back is Dave Waterman, most frequently a man-marker, but Adrian Whitbread, Andy Awford and Jason Cundy are all injured - the latter having been given until Christmas to sort his fitness out following long-term problems. Scott Hiley was also signed by Ball, and used to play for Southampton so he doesn't really stand a chance.

In midfield, Nigel Quashie has started the season well following a disappointing end to his career at Forest. He claims to be lacking match fitness, but appears to have been one of Pompey's key men thus far. Dane Thomas Thogersen's Portsmouth career has improved no end since Ball stopped employing him out of position at right-back, whilst holding-player Tom Curtis arrived from Chesterfield in the summer. In the absence of calf-injury victim Kevin Harper Pompey's midfield was criticised for a lack of width at Deepdale, but this may be assuaged by a return from international duty of Slovenian Mladen Rudonja, although teenage prospect Gary O'Neil is another option. Beermonster Ceri Hughes is another destructive possibility. Stefani Miglioranzi, a Brazilian with a good touch but little resilience may be on the bench. Indolent winger Michael Panopoulous, signed by Ball for 750,000, is very much out of favour and had a trial with the Hornets over the summer.

Up front, record signing Lee Mills has failed to score in his first four outings (oh, terrific...), whilst local hero Steve Claridge, dismissive of the Hornets' promotion prospects in his Sky column, has just signed a new three year contract which ties him to Fratton Park until he starts to collect his pension. Youngster Luke Nightingale, whose explosive debut two years ago wasn't really followed up last season, is another option, as is walking elbow Lee Bradbury.

Pompey's form has been very mixed thus far; the impressive home win against Wolves was put into perspective by Gillingham repeating the feat last weekend. On the lookout for a striker, they have yet to score from open play this season, all their goals having come from set pieces and corners. So it ain't gonna be pretty.

But at least I know that I can't feel any worse....