Tony Adams and pressure have been such close neighbours for so long now that in the aftermath of Portsmouth's unexpected 2-0 FA Cup defeat on Saturday it was difficult to see any fresh behavioural evidence of increased strain, rising blood pressure or panic. He was certainly not reaching for any kind of bottle when he vowed to stay on for the relegation scrap ahead.
His self-effacing style, honesty and dry humour gave the impression of a man unfazed by the hostile home reaction to the holders' exit, courtesy of an excellent performance by Championship team Swansea City. But this affable outer skin may provide only superficial protection as the jackals circle in expectation of seeing another inexperienced young Englishman join the list of Premier League management casualties. If Portsmouth fail, again, to perform and collect the points when they entertain Aston Villa at Fratton Park tomorrow evening, it will extend their winless run to six league games, since 30 November, and Adams' record to just two wins in 13 since he was appointed full-time manager on 28 October. The heat has risen ever since.
A team that had won four in seven during an inconsistent start to a season of high hopes appeared to turn into one that was reconciled to decay and decline.
The credit crunch and a 6-0 thrashing at Manchester City in September were the writing on the wall as club owner Alexandre Gaydamak became embroiled in talk of selling up. Adams inherited a scrap for domestic survival rather than a glorious crusade across Europe.
He knew this, of course, but armed with the aura of a legendary playing career, his reputation as the England and Arsenal captain, a courageous and successful battle against alcoholism, and a sports science degree, from Brunel University – not to mention management experience at Wycombe Wanderers and coaching roles with Feyenoord and, under Redknapp, at Pompey – he felt ready for the fight.
Now, to some, it looks as if Adams, as a manager, lacks the sometimes indefinable qualities required to prepare, organise and motivate consistently successful football teams. His spell at Wycombe saw them relegated to League Two before, after a year, he resigned for personal reasons. His record was 12 wins in 53 games, a poor return compared to the glittering statistics of his playing career.
As well as his many successes – he has lifted the FA Cup three times – he suffered the ignominy and embarrassment of being in the Arsenal team knocked out by Brian Flynn's basement Wrexham side in the third round in 1992. That painful exit was in his mind when he warned his Pompey players against complacency before Saturday's dismal display, in which they were not only outplayed, but also out-thought and out-fought by Roberto Martinez's well-drilled, fit and fluid team. It is no exaggeration to report that Histon caused Swansea far greater anxiety in the third round.
"I warned them," said Adams. "I told them before the game that Swansea were a very good side who passed very well and we would go out of the Cup if we weren't up for it. I was proved right. Their first-half performance and their keeper did it. We were out-thought, outplayed and outclassed.
"We gave ourselves too much to do. We were chasing the game... You have ups and downs in the Cup. Whenever you go out, it is disappointing. I have horrible memories and I have fantastic ones, but this hurts me just as much as that night in Wrexham."
Adams – who fielded Jermaine Pennant, on loan from Liverpool, in a central attacking role on his debut and only moved him to the right wing after the break – deflected suggestions that the result had left him and Pompey in crisis. The home fans were amazed at his decision to play David Nugent wide rather than alongside Peter Crouch. "I wanted something a bit different," he explained, unconvincingly.
"We are not Arsenal or Manchester United," he said. "I knew what to expect and we are in a scrap. We need to put people on the pitch who are prepared to scrap, I need winners and I need fighters and I am certainly not going to go away myself.
As Adams went through a tortuous afternoon on the touchline, Martinez was calm personified, his team gliding like Swans to cut Pompey apart. Their first-half goals, from on-loan Southampton winger Nathan Dyer and Jason Scotland's spot-kick, delivered a merited half-time advantage that was protected by Greek goalkeeper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos.
"It must be up there as one of my best performances because of the quality of the opposition and the occasion," Martinez said. "We have the quality, too, to give any Premier League side a good game – and like everyone we want to play there too."
Goals: Dyer (26) 0-1; Scotland, pen (45) 0-2.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Cranie, Campbell, Distin, Belhadj (Hreidarsson, 46) ; Nugent (Kanu, 46) , Hughes (Kaboul, 80), Davis, Traore; Pennant, Crouch. Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Kaboul, Pamarot, Utaka, Mvuembra.
Swansea City (4-5-1 ): Konstantopoulos; Rangel, Monk, Williams, Tate; Gomez, Pratley, Allen (Pintado, 61), Britton, Dyer (Gower, 77); Scotland. Substitutes not used: DeVries (gk), Orlandi, Gower, Tudur Jones, Bauza, Serran.
Referee: A Marriner (W Midlands).
Booked: Portsmouth Distin, Belhadj; Swansea City Pratley, Tate, Rangel, Britton.
Man of the match: Konstantopoulos
Attendance: 17,357Reuse content