portsmouth 0-1 everton

The Hart-ache goes on

September 26, 2009
By Harry Harris
(Archive)

Have a team ever been relegated before the end of September from the Premier League? Well no. But Portsmouth might have just managed to achieve that unwanted distinction.

Paul Hart
GettyImagesPaul Hart has had a rocky ride as Portsmouth boss.

• Portsmouth 0-1 Everton
• Portsmouth in peril

Paul Merson, a former player at Fratton Park, made the point before the game that if his old club lost against Everton then they would be down, no doubt about it. And they lost. No ordinary defeat, mind you. It extended a record Premier League sequence of seven straight defeats at the start of the season, one they set just last Saturday when they lost their sixth in a row, with Pompey also becoming only the fourth team in history to have lost seven of their opening games.

So, the Hart-ache goes on. Manager Paul Hart's future was on the line with speculation mounting he would be replaced if they lost again. But this was not a match on which to sack a manager, at least taken in isolation.

The players responded for their manager. All eyes were on them and how they would react to the recent speculation over the club's future. Instead of using the internal crisis as a ready-made excuse, they actually appeared galvanised by the situation. Despite a mounting crisis behind the scenes and within the board room, the players showed they were backing their manager.

They could not have given much more in terms of hard work, commitment, spirit, call it what you like, the Pompey players did their manager proud in terms of their effort. The team also had their moments, and with a bit of luck might have earned their first point at last.

However, Everton were awful; one of the worst travelling teams in the Premier League. Let's be honest, David Moyes is highly respected as a manager and now has a strong squad, but his team lack backbone away from Goodison Park and it was easy to see why they has lost their previous two away games.

If Pompey had won, they would have been just three points behind Moyes' team, who started in 13th, and the whole affair at Fratton Park took on the air of a relegation battle. Everton came out on top, which might be the tonic they need not to be dragged into a winter of discontent of their own.

But the focus was squarely on Pompey both on and off the pitch, and while the players responded, it still all ended in tears. Many of the players were on their knees at the final whistle, exhausted from the effort of trying to change their fortunes.

Hart had promised before the game that a turnaround was possible, but it was not to be. And for the Pompey manager, there is universal sympathy. He has shown enormous restraint, huge amounts of dignity, and precious little luck; but I have always said that in management, it is better to be a lucky boss than a good one.

And Paul Hart is out of luck. Down at the bottom with little sign of getting out of trouble. How long can they wait for a change of luck? Commitment alone from the players has not been good enough, bar their spirited efforts against Everton, but the team isn't good enough as the best players have been sold off.

Louis Saha
GettyImagesSaha celebrates after bagging the winner.

The Premier League table doesn't lie, but it also doesn't tell you the hard luck story. Before the match Hart looked full of vigour, yet the interview took place with the manager in front of one of the adverting boards - with shirt sponsor 'Jobsite' looming over him like an ominous omen.

Realism is kicking in at Fratton Park. The club are going down unless something drastic happens to change the team's fortunes. The consequences of relegation are enormous and to look down and out before the end of September is more than a crisis.

I just don't see how Paul Hart can survive it, but at least he is going out fighting. A stay of execution appears unlikely and would surely be simply delaying the inevitable. If a club has any feeling that a change in manager could reverse their fortunes, they will go for it. The bookies have made him firm favourite to be the first managerial casualty in the Premier League - and they rarely get it wrong.