Hodgson’s substitution in the early stages of the second half was absolutely key to last night’s result.
Kelly was very poor, and had to be taken off. I couldn’t hear any of the reported booing, just a silent air of relief. Think it’s pretty disgraceful to boo a player unless he’s obviously not trying. Kelly did try, but whatever he did went wrong. I felt sorry for the guy, but he had to be taken off – his confidence is clearly shot at the moment. Hughes was fantastic; Hangeland still looks a bit shakey (I think his recent back injury is still hampering his movement); and Schwarzer put his recent dodgy performances to one side and was outstanding – his first half saves prevented us from being out of the game, and made an excellent one in the second half, which he made look so easy.
The Baird-Murphy a partnership is simply no longer working as effectively as it once did. Baird makes a good combination with Greening, because they are both hasslers, who like to get stuck in. With Murphy, I really am starting to think that we need an “enforcer” next to him. Whilst Baird has had a superb season at CM, Murphy is the one that pulls the strings, so I would bring in Dikgacoi or Etuhu when fit, just to give Murphy that extra little bit of licence and freedom. Murphy started to take control more after the change, and we have to make sure that continues. I’m still not convinced by Dikgacoi quite yet, but we do need some more presence in the middle of the park, and a run of games for the South African could be beneficial for his development and for the team.
In addition, I thought Baird moving to right-back also made Duff a much more potent threat. Kelly didn’t seem too willing to make overlapping runs – Baird made them time and time again. When you have wingers who like/need to cut in, it is essential to have the full-backs overlapping – the opposing full-backs have little idea who to mark, and the wingers have more space with which to work with and run at the opposition defence. Barcelona are a prime example of this – whilst Messi is a fantastic player, it is Dani Alves who dominates the right hand flank. The result of this is that Messi can wander inside onto his stronger left foot, and the option to switch the play back out right for a cross remains. Both the advancing full-back has increased space to get a cross in (as Baird did for Zamora’s header), and the winger can cut inside and get a shot on goal with his stronger foot.
Shorey was excellent, little more needs to be said about him. He is absolutely tiny though – Kevin Davies targeted Konchesky in the air and dominated him in the home fixture this season, and doubtless will be licking his lips at the thought of doing the same to Shorey. Greening too worked his socks off – I was very disappointed to hear his name booed when read out at the start. He’s not a natural wide player, but he did a good job for us, and added that little bit of extra grit that we have perhaps been missing in recent weeks, and was essential in last night’s game. It would have been interesting to see whether he would have been played, had there not been an attacking full-back making his debut. Greening gave Shorey just that little bit of solidity with which to work with.
One final thought – I really felt that we missed AJ last night. Whilst Okaka looks promising, it was really evident how we missed a striker who a) defends from the front; and b) makes runs into the channels. The former makes it so much more difficult for teams to dictate play, as Pompey did for much of the first half. The latter is one of the side’s main ways of getting the ball into advanced and dangerous positions. Duff was livid at Okaka at one stage for not making such a run – instead he just stood there, being marked by a centre-back. We immediately looked more dangerous going forward when Nevland came on – his movement really helped us open up Pompey more frequently.
Okaka should learn this in time – he’s only been here a couple of days – but we really lacked that extra bit of movement up front which is so essential to our attacking play. Even the relatively pedestrian Elm, who impressed me last night, made these runs – no doubt a result of spending so much of the season so far training with the side and knowing exactly what is expected of him. If Okaka can learn and adapt to this aspect of our game, he should do well for us. He seems to have all the raw attributes to be a success in English football. Let’s just hope that he can put that (dreadful) miss behind him – we’re going to need him if Zamora is out injured.
It wasn’t the best game we’ve played – the first half in particular was beyond abysmal. Mentally though, this was a massive result. Get a point at Bolton, and bring on Burnley at the Cottage. Our fortunes won’t seem so bad then.