Profligate Pompey pay a high price

Portsmouth 0 Everton 1
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The Independent Football

Starting a season with seven successive losses can induce intimations of doom in even the most optimistic supporter, but tuning in to local radio as they departed Fratton Park should have given Pompey fans a sense of perspective. Bitter rivals Southampton were playing at Carlisle United. Saints' draw at Brunton Park left them, following their post-administration points deduction, on minus one, still 10 points adrift of safety.

However, Southampton's fate, while a source of joy to Pompey fans, is a reminder of how fragile a team's top-flight status can be. Portsmouth's new owner, Sulaiman al-Fahim, dismisses claims that administration looms, and promises a £50m cash injection. Yet without the annual subsidy of Premier League TV money Portsmouth, with their outdated, low-revenue-producing ground, could slide just as far and fast.

Thus the pressure is on Paul Hart to halt the losing run, the worst in the top flight in 79 years. Hart is convinced that first point, and victory, is just around the corner. All struggling managers say this but Pompey's performance against Everton on Saturday provided ample justification for his faith.

Aaron Mokoena headed against the bar, Leighton Baines cleared Hassan Yebda's header off the line, Tim Howard denied Aruna Dindane, Tal Ben Haim and Kevin-Prince Boateng. Hart blamed profligate finishing rather than luck, and Louis Saha underlined his point with the well- taken goal which settled the game.

It was Saha's seventh of the season. "He is looking some player," said David Moyes. "He has played in a World Cup semi-final and is a talent. It was about getting him fit and believing he can do it again." How Hart must hope one of his free transfer acquisitions proves so successful. "I believe I have the players to get us out of this position," Hart said. "They have shown a very good attitude and there were signs from lots of players that they were comfortable and knew what they were doing."

Yesterday, Hart received his latest vote of confidence from Peter Storrie, the chief executive. "It's OK people saying, 'Go and change things', but look at the performance," Storrie said. "We think we can build on it. You'd be daft and stupid to change it."

Storrie also refuted reports he was thinking of walking away himself. "Sulaiman has said publicly there's £50m coming, so on that basis I'm happy to stay and continue to work with the club," he said. "Making sure the club is sound and the finances come in has always been the main issue for me."

Fine words, but anyone who seriously thinks Storrie would voluntarily leave a post that paid him £1.2m in 2007-08 financial year, is naïve. That description might also fit the home fans who chanted Storrie's name. He signed the cheques throughout the spendthrift period which has left the club teetering on bankruptcy.

Living the dream brought an FA Cup triumph and a European adventure which included leading Milan 2-0 less than a year ago, but now the reckoning has arrived and Hart is the man dealing with it. "We have wiped £30m off the wage bill, and brought in £75m in transfer fees in nine months," he said. As a result there was only one starter involved in Pompey's 2008 FA Cup win, Sylvain Distin, in an Everton shirt.

"A lot has happened at this club financially in the last 12 months," Hart added. "The club is in need of money. So I don't personally expect that £50m will be for me to spend."

This suggests the current squad will have to carry Portsmouth to safety. There are signs the talent is there with Dindane, Tommy Smith, Boateng and the on-loan Jamie O'Hara impressing. Now, said Moyes, who has known bad times as well as good at Goodison Park, they need time. "Paul is handling it very well," he said. "We've been at the bottom and the key is supporting your manager and your players. Portsmouth need some stability, somebody has to be allowed to bed it down."

Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Vanden Borre, Kaboul, Wilson, Ben Haim; Boateng, Mokoena (Yebda, 72), Brown (Kanu, 80), O'Hara; Smith (Webber, 89), Dindane. Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Mullins, Williamson, Belhadj.

Everton (4-1-4-1): Howard; Heitinga, Yobo, Distin, Baines; Rodwell; Osman (Hibbert, 73), Cahill, Fellaini, Pienaar (Bilyaletdinov, 59); Saha (Jo, 89). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Gosling, Yakubu, Neill.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Booked: Everton Rodwell, Yobo, Fellaini.

Man of the match: Smith.

Attendance: 18,116.

Worst in 79 years... but United hold record

*Not since Manchester United lost their opening 12 games in 1930-31 has a team begun a top-flight season as poorly as Portsmouth. Liverpool lost their first eight in 1899-1900, while Bolton lost seven in 1902-03.