Friday, 29 January 2016

Rival Lines: expect a Cup shock!

Rival Lines
Match Preview: FA Cup 4th Round
Portsmouth v AFCB
Blogger Interview:
Twitter: @Pompey_Fans

This week I tried to find my old friend at Pompey-Fans,com only to find he had taken a job at the club itself and so he kindly put me in contact with Steve Bone who writes for the matchday programme and the Sports Mail as well contributing to

CC: Pompey beat Ipswich Town in the last round of the FA Cup after a replay. Did you always feel that you could beat them and just about any team at Fratton Park and in an evening game?

PF: I think many in the Pompey camp were confident, because we'd beaten Derby and run Reading close in early-season League Cup games under the Fratton lights. I must admit, I thought Ipswich would win the replay – we'd outplayed them at Portman Road and I felt they'd strengthen their team. But they didn't, and they paid the price – we deserved the win and it was a great occasion.

CC: Is it slightly more appealing to face AFC Bournemouth these days – even though we are not the Saints or the Seagulls – you have not had a result against us for a little while?

PF: No we owe you one – though it is not that long since we were doing battle with you in League One; now here we are three divisions apart. Pompey fans were delighted to draw Bournemouth – it's a Premier League team at home and, no disrespect meant to the Cherries, but it's one we feel we can give a run for their money. And I'm still smarting from the 2-0 home defeat you inflicted on us in front of the TVS cameras in October 1982!

CC: The season Pompey are having indicates that the P word may start getting whispered, but are you worried about having to catch up in games with the FA Cup run taking up some playing time?

PF: Some are worried an extended cup run will hit our league hopes, but I don't think it has yet, or would even if we got through this round. Any further (which is unlikely anyway) and it probably would. Promotion is the big hope for all Pompey fans this season – some say anything less will be a failure – but Paul Cook has enough decent players to rest two or three when he needs to, though he has played a virtually-full-strength side in the Cup so far.

CC: What main changes has Paul Cook made to the team since becoming manager?

PF: Just the goalkeeper, defence, midfield and attack! He has basically ripped up last season's squad and started again. Apart from a couple of players, the likes of Adam Webster and Danny Hollands [Ed- an AFCB legend!], last season's lot have either been released, sold or left to play for the reserves. Even Matt Tubbs [Ed- oh no, nothing he would like better than to score against an Eddie Howe team that he could not get into!], a prolific scorer at L2 level, has not played much as he does not seem to fit into Cook's preferred system. The squad needed a big overhaul and Cook has got on with it in a no-nonsense way.

CC: We have seen how good League Two is of late with teams like Pompey and Exeter playing well against higher opposition, but do you feel there are many players in each League Two team that could be playing at a higher level?

PF: It's a funny league. There are a lot of teams who are simply not very good and rely on the physical side of the game, while the teams pushing for promotion are all, I would say, similar in terms of quality. And I'd expect more and more Premier and Championship clubs to take a punt on L2 players because of the 'Vardy factor'. Even last week, we saw a couple of very good Oxford players – Liam Sercombe and Kemar Roofe – and they're the sort you'd expect to see play at a higher level. As for Pompey's better players, hopefully their higher-division chances will come with us.

CC: Who is Portsmouth's most dangerous player as it seems the goals are getting spread around the team this season?

PF: You're right – we don't have an outstanding goalscorer. Marc McNulty looked like he might soar to the top of the goal charts after arriving on loan from Sheffield United but his have dried up a little. Conor Chaplin has scored a good number for a player who very rarely starts. I'd say our most dangerous player in attack at the moment is Kyle Bennett, a skillful winger who has grown in confidence in the past couple of months and has racked up plenty of assists – though he'd probably admit he'd like to score more himself.

CC: What signings have Pompey made this January?

PF: All we've done at the time of writing is extended a couple of loans – McNulty and Ipswich defender Matt Clarke – while also recruiting 18-year-old goalie Ryan Fulton on loan from Liverpool. I understand we've been trying to get striker Caolan Lavery back for another loan from Sheffield Wednesday -–we had him from October 'til the start of 2016 and he's done really well, but he's currently back with the Owls. We have also recruited Sheff Utd full-back Kieron freeman on loan – it's popped up today. He can't play Saturday – appeared for Blades in R1.

CC: Do you think Pompey have still under achieved so far this season?

PF: I don't think we've under-achieved, or over-achieved. You can't expect to run away with a division when 80 per cent of your team have not played alongside one another. I still think a top-three spot is achievable, but if the play-offs end up being our route forward, we'll have to cover our eyes and hope for the best. Finishing outside the top seven probably would be rightfully called failure, given the size of the operation we are running.

CC: AFC Bournemouth are unlikely to play too many of their first team in this game and Pompey may rest some players too, but have you some good young players that deserve a go in such a match?

PF: You may well see any of the following either starting or, more likely coming on - left-back Brandon Haunstrup, calm and cultured midfielder Ben Close, winger Ben Tollitt, or pint-sized poacher Conor Chaplin. And Pompey fans won't mind at all if Eddie Howe rests a few – though they would like to see Sylvain Distin and Matt Ritchie, both of whom are much admired by Fratton fans and should get a great reception (along with Howe, who incidentally I've written fondly about in the matchday programme – yours for £3!)

CC: How do you see Portsmouth lining up for the game?

PF: At a guess – Fulton in goal, Davies and Stevens the full-backs, Burgess and Webster centre-halves; Close and Doyle deep midfield; Evans, Bennett, Roberts the three attacking midfielders, McNulty up front. But Cook may have a surprise or two in store for us at 2.20pm!

Score prediction? 2-1 Pompey with a late Tollitt winner.

CC: Thanks very much Steve. It is good to hear a confident Pompey fan. It sounds like the season has been pretty enjoyable down at Fratton Park so far and if promotion is gained there should be quite a party there. It's down to Cup business this weekend though and I admit that Pompey have a chance of an upset if AFCB's select 11 do not play with a cutting-edge. AFCB have had a bit of a run out though in midweek and some of the first team will be involved, so I think the Cherries in the away stand are also looking forward to this one – let battle commence! A fifth round draw would be very exciting for either club. Check out and their lead up to the south coast Cup tie this weekend.

Transfer watch
AFCB signed 18-year-old Lithuanian keeper Marius Adamonis on loan until the end of the season from Atlantas. Eddie Howe has been linked with Mr Abromovich's Chelsea manager wishlist by the Daily Telegraph - but we know that's a non-starter!

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