Woeful start but Kranjcar now has lots to Cro about

Niko was sinking fast at Pompey – and slipped up at Wembley – but he's ready for White Hart reign
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Niko Kranjcar's season was only ever going to get better; he might just have imagined the improvement would come a little sooner. From four successive Premier League defeats to begin the new campaign at Portsmouth, it was straight into international football and Croatia's 5-1 loss at Wembley, undermining their chances of qualifying for the World Cup. A move to Tottenham to be reunited with Harry Redknapp promised better things but not immediately: Spurs 1, Manchester United 3; Chelsea 3, Spurs 0.

Forgetting one Carling Cup tie against Hereford United (and most people did) his record at that stage was seven games, seven defeats and a goal difference of 3-18. No wonder he enjoyed the 5-0 drubbing of Burnley at White Hart Lane.

Apart from one other hiccup, at home to Stoke, Tottenham have continued to enjoy better results since then and confirmed the elegant midfielder's belief that moving from the south coast to north London was the right decision.

The writing had been on the ancient old Fratton Park wall for some time. Portsmouth were a sinking ship and Kranjcar would have to risk accusations of rodent-like behaviour to escape it. "It was the time to get out," he reflected a little wistfully in his soft, slightly American accent. "Unfortunately I must say, because

the three years I spent there were great. It was only the last year that we were struggling for survival. In the first two years we were pushing for a European place, and we won the FA Cup, which at club level was my biggest experience. But all of a sudden the money wasn't coming in, they had problems financially and selling all the best players, which obviously didn't help. I wanted to go and try to make a statement somewhere else and hopefully I can do that here."

Making a positive statement is something he is used to, having been a star from a young age and the son of the man who was a hugely proud captain of Croatia in their first international as an independent nation in 1990. Niko's father Zlatko later became national team manager, through to the the 2006 World Cup. Despite the inevitable criticisms of nepotism, he had no qualms about picking his son, who outlasted him and has remained a regular there alongside his new Tottenham team-mate Luka Modric.

Kranjcar it was who helped ruin England's Euro 2008 hopes by squirming a shot under Scott Carson's body right at the start of that sodden night at Wembley. Two years later, he was forced to endure misery of his own at the same venue, compounded when Ukraine eliminated Croatia before suffering the same fate themselves in last week's play-off with Greece.

"Obviously it's disappointing not to be going to the World Cup but it happens and you have to pick yourself up after that kind of result and try to find goals in other ways. The moment we knew we were not going, that was the hardest.

"These last two weeks, it just reminded you of where you should have been. We do believe we had a lot of bad luck through the campaign with a lot of injuries to key players and the small squad we've got. When two or three of our key players are missing, it's hard to replace them."

One of those key figures was Modric, who broke a leg at the end of August, prompting Redknapp to go back to Portsmouth to secure the less frail Kranjcar. The latter was delighted to sign up for his old manager, whom he likens to the former Croatian coach Ciro Blazevic for his experience, enthusiasm and man-management.

In seeking consolation for the World Cup failure, he is looking to the obvious target of keeping Spurs in the top four, where they hope to sit after this afternoon's home game with Wigan. "Back home I was playing in teams [Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split] that were winning championships and cups every season so it's something I'm familiar with. Getting to the Champions' League with a team that wasn't there [before] is massive and I think everyone in the club believes we can push on and achieve that."


Bolton Wanderers v Blackburn Rovers (Sky Sports 1, 1.30)

One of the more genuine Lancashire derbies will inflame local passions, even without the stricken Sam Allardyce. Last season's two draws suggest it will be tight, though Blackburn will want to set about a defence that has let in nine goals in two games.

Tottenham Hotspur v Wigan Athletic (3.0)

Spurs always request that their Saturday games after an international week are moved back a day and Wigan are grateful they agreed after midfielder Hendry Thomas missed his flight back from Honduras's game. Wilson Palacios seemed to make it and will be keen to get the better of his compatriot and former club.

Stoke City v Portsmouth (Sky Sports 1, 4.0)

Not the most obvious choice for a prime-time TV game, though it has a certain ghoulish attraction. There are so many poor teams at the bottom that Portsmouth are not yet out of touch but they need some points soon.

Steve Tongue