Fan’s View 23/24 – No.33: Portsmouth at home

Article by Paul Beasley Thursday, February 1st, 2024  

FAN’S VIEW 23/24 – NO.33: PORTSMOUTH AT HOME

OXFORD UNITED 2 PORTSMOUTH 2

Unlike some games recently I felt fully engaged throughout. My team took me along on the ride from start to finish. There was heart pumping passion and value for money. “Two-One and you f**ked it up” sang not only the North and East stands but the more elderly folks in the SSU too. A mate of similar old age confirmed the same from the SSL.

This is what helps make football what it is. You never know, although sometimes you think you do. Before the game as far as home fans were concerned it was completely flat, understandably so. The gate of 8864 was disappointing for a fixture like this, but again, given our direction of travel, understandable.

It goes without saying that Portsmouth sold out their allocation of tickets and their partisan fans always contribute to the occasion. Much bouncing around and singing including “one nil and you f**ked it up”. They started it.

Don’t cross the line though – and I don’t think it did here. It was never going to be WBA v Wolves.

Pleased with a point? Kind of but it’s not a straightforward yes from me. A deserved point definitely but I can’t argue that we merited all three with defending like ours and that included more than just poor goal-keeping that led to their two goals and the lack of top class finishing ability in front of goal. In the second last minute of the five added on sub Gaitlin O’Donkor had a golden opportunity to make this a game that would be remembered as one of the greats. He took the ball really well on his chest but his connection when attempting to shoot was not clean in the slightest. A top striker would likely have buried that. Don’t give me any of this “oh, it was blocked”. If it was blocked it was only because it wasn’t struck properly. Fine margins but ultimately the difference between success and failure, between collecting one point or three. Between making the top six or not. Might have been anyone that chance had fallen to so could have been anyone missing it. Not picking on G O’D. Is there anyone we would have had total confidence in to bury it at that stage of the game?

I’ve got this perception that we’re not sharp in front of goal but statistically our 1.66 average goals scored per game is the fifth best in L1, better than Portsmouth’s 1.53.

Whilst this was a gripping and thoroughly entertaining contest, the quality wasn’t as high from either side as we’ve witnessed at times this season. The visitors may be top and I can see why they’re up there in the mix but I wouldn’t say they’re the best team we’ve faced this campaign. Second placed Bolton, who are three points behind, have three games in hand on them and in third Posh, who are just a further point adrift, have two.

From the first whistle we looked much more comfortable than we have done recently. We had shape, we looked much more solid with opponents not being given the freedom of the park to do their stuff. Everyone was closing down, harrying and hassling. They were giving as good as they were getting in the physical stakes. I felt so much better watching what was unfolding than I had done three days earlier.

We were so much more comfortable with 4-4-2. No wing backs not really being wing backs. And even with four at the back Greg Leigh still gets forward so we’ve almost got a wing back without having to play a wing back.

He was looking big and strong and is a player who really gets stuck in. Elliott Moore and Ciaron Brown like a challenge too. When you get a few like this it becomes infectious. This doesn’t mean we’d got it cracked defensively by any means though – and obviously they need to be able to play with the ball at their feet too. Not sure Brown had his best game in that regard but he must be absolutely knackered at the end of games. They probably all were after this one. Shifts were most definitely put in.

I had the impression that we were trying to get the ball forward quicker and didn’t have so much of keeping it at the back, or trying to keep it, but going nowhere. Putting pressure on opponents when playing the percentage game can lead to mistakes and these can bring rewards. Just for the record I’ve not suddenly become a proponent of hoof it and hope.

The stats which I chose not to ignore this time were revealing. I thought that Portsmouth had more possession but not as much as the 64% recorded. They made 570 passes to our 308 but when it comes to long passes they only made 67 which was ten fewer than those played by our lads. Their accuracy was 77%, ours 65% and in the opponents’ half of the field 67% to our 51%.

This is very different from what we normally get. Was it by design or was it that we couldn’t keep the ball for any period of time? I’d like to think the former.

There wasn’t a lot in it when it came to shots though. We had 13 with four on target. They had 17 with six on target.

Our opener came after Cameron Brannagan won a tackle in the centre-circle when Conor Shaughnessy had just overrun the ball. Brannagan got caught and was in obvious pain beating the ground but when the ball almost immediately came back in his direction, still on the turf, he got another challenge in. It’s giving everything for the cause that helps win football matches. Marcus McGuane was able to pick the ball up and, in a tight situation, took it to his left before playing a sumptuous pass with the outside of his right foot to Tyler Goodrham. That took three blue shirts out of the game and it was advantage us 3v2. To his left Goodrham had Ruben Rodrigues, to his right Mark Harris. Which option would he take? The defenders didn’t know. When he reached the edge of the D he opted for neither. He’s got a shot on him. Low and accurate. Well struck but is it fair to ask if keeper Will Norris should have done better?

It wasn’t that long in to the second half when we began to look a little second best. When you’ve had to change keepers at the break and substitute your injured right-back just before maybe time to think we might be a goal up but it’s all going to end badly again. As if that injury list wasn’t long enough as it is.

The equaliser didn’t come until the 69th minute though, and they don’t come much scrappier than this. Referee Darren Drysdale gave some downright baffling decisions to both teams and also ignored what appeared to be blatant fouls by both teams. The free kick he gave for something that only he will have known when RR got close to Marlon Pack should have gone the other way for the Portsmouth captain’s shirt pull.  From that the visitors worked the ball out to the right flank. Abu Kamara got past Goodrham and from his cut back Callum Lang shot at Simon Eastwood from close in. At the time I thought Easty had fumbled it but Colby Bishop’s boot was flying and he wasn’t able to get a proper grasp of the ball. Having seen a replay my initial criticism of SE is perhaps a tad harsh but I still think he should have done better. That said either Oisin Smyth or Moore should have hammered the ball away off the line but they didn’t, they got in each other’s way. Moore kicking the back of Smyth’s leg. Bugger.

The negative thinking now kicked in a bit. This set back probably giving a great boost to the tide that had already started flowing Pompey’s way. We were down to the bare bones, we had nothing on the bench that could bring the game back our way.

It was mostly all Portsmouth now but Goodrham, midway in his own half, managed to nip in and intercept a pass just before it reached the intended blue shirt. Somehow he put a spin on the ball which kept it in when just about everyone thought it was going into touch. He sped after it and away. If Drysdale had been thinking even partially as he did when he awarded that free kick to Pack we would have had a penalty for the touch on Goodrham in the box by Tommy Lowry.

We then had a shout for a foul right on the edge of the penalty area. Inside or out it was hard to tell. Goodrham went down. He’s not one who does that as proven earlier. Drysdale gave nothing.

Sure enough in the 80th minute we fell behind. We’re not the best at keeping the ball when we have a throw. Smyth threw it down the line. One Portsmouth head won the ball, then another and another getting it to Pack who sent it long to Lang. He held it with Leigh covering but he took it back and across before putting the ball into the net with Eastwood flat footed. Perhaps also another case of too many cooks. Would Leigh have been able better to deal with the situation if Moore and Brannagan had not tried to help?

Jerome’s commentary: “In the end they just had too much for United mentally, physically, whatever it was”.  That was the feeling. We’d begun to look tired. That was it. Ten minutes to go we just had to hang on and not completely crumble. I didn’t have much faith we’d get anything from the game now but no way did the players who had given their all deserve the response from a few of our fans who headed to the exits. Pathetic. Don’t they remember the 5-5 at the Manor in 1992?

The Portsmouth game management, which had been evident throughout and which Drysdale mostly played along with, was now very much to the fore. The restart was delayed and then, after catching a corner, Norris dropped to the ground and feigned injury. It’s cheating although packaged as “game management”. We would have been going apeshit if the manager had been Steve Evans.

On this subject one that got to me as much as any of these incidents was earlier when a Portsmouth player went down and held his head even though he had not been struck by anything. He refused to get up so Drysdale, who I don’t think had a clue, stopped the play. Our players complained. Drysdale signalled head injury. Just guessing of course. He went over and spoke to the prone player who then got up and was as good as new. If the referee had any authority he would have insisted on treatment with the so called “injured” man then having to miss 30 seconds of play – and somehow when he re-started the game Portsmouth were given possession.

But perhaps we were able to use this as a motivator. Were the league leaders worried they couldn’t hold on?

In the 85th minute James Henry replaced McGuane. I’ll confess that I couldn’t see this helping our cause.

As a team though, as a depleted team we dug very deep. The towel was not thrown in. I felt real pride again.

Leigh blocked a Pompey back heel down the line. Goodrham then fed the ball back to Leigh who, with tired legs, tried to pump it forward but it didn’t even make it over the half way line. No matter, RR collected it well, used his body to shield it as he played it high over the blue back line for the ever willing Harris to run on to. Our no.9 cut back across Ryley Towler who had only just come on and, after a few more touches, let one go with his left. As four defenders had all gone towards the ball Henry made a run to the right. The movement of an experienced pro. Norris went down to his left, got a hand to the ball and sent it vertically and invitingly for a quite sprightly looking Henry to head home from an inch out. This was his 50th league goal in an Oxford shirt and he became the 14th player to net for OUFC this season. That’s quite a number and Marcus Browne, Josh Murphy, Gatlin O’Donkor and new boy Tyler Burey are yet to net.

I’ve played the goal back many times and each time shout “yes” as it goes in.

The added time was end to end with the midfield being largely by-passed.

The point gained put us back into the top six but Stevenage are only a point behind with two games in hand.

This was the only L1 match played this evening so whilst our lads that are left standing were having their batteries drained, Reading were sat at home with feet up gleefully rubbing their hands. Fair to say they’ll be fresher than us for the 12:30 start on Saturday. They’ve only lost one of their last nine league games. On Boxing Day they drew at Peterborough and a week ago beat Derby 1-0. They’ve only let in one goal in their last three games; we’ve conceded six.

We’ll basically have the same squad for the game against the Royals but Sam Long will be available. So once more a bit thin on the ground. Eastwood will obviously start between the sticks with James Beadle’s presence already seeming a long time ago. Hopefully Burey will become more match fit with each game. Here he noticeably tired. I think he may be one of those players that it is hard to form an opinion on. He looked stronger here than I’d previously noticed and clearly has pace. Is there an end product in terms of assists and goals? Only time will tell. At one stage I observed that he didn’t quite know what his legs were doing but by following them he could cause problems. Memories of Chicken George Lawrence?

By the time this is read there may be more transfer business done. Owen Dale, a winger from Blackpool. Reports are that he is quick but doesn’t score many or provide many assists. As ever time will tell.

I am now looking forward to Saturday with much more zest than I thought I would after the Bristol Rovers defeat.

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Portsmouth Financial Analysis by Colin Barson

 Before we get into the financial and ownership analysis of Portsmouth just a brief apology from me for not doing an analysis for the last three home games. Firstly, I had Covid over the Christmas period, and it really floored me, meaning I was not up to doing the Cambridge and Derby financial reports. Having said that, Cambridge don’t produce full accounts, so there wouldn’t have been too much to report anyway, and Derby haven’t filed any accounts at all since 2018! I do have other sources of information, but without being able to do a full, like for like, comparison, much of what I do would have been meaningless. The Barnsley game left me very frustrated, as we have just bought a second home, back in Oxfordshire, and I was there for the period immediately before and after the Barnsley game. Unfortunately, the broadband was only connected a few days ago, so I was unable to access some of my usual sources of information and unable to send a report to Paul by email anyway! But normal service is now resumed, so onto Portsmouth’s finances.

As you’d expect Portsmouth are one of the “bigger” clubs in the division, and therefore feature fairly high in most of the metrics we look into. With an average home crowd of 18,034 they are third highest in the division, but their Matchday Income is the highest in the division, at over £5m, more than double the divisional average. Furthermore, their Commercial Income is the 6th highest, and their “Other” Income (EFL money, PL Loyalty payment etc) is also 6th highest in the division. Where they didn’t fare so well was in Player Trading, where they were 17th of the 17 clubs that report this figure, with only £100,000 realised against a divisional average of £1.35m. This seems to have been a pattern in recent years and I’d put it down to their managers prior to John Mousinho (the Cowley brothers and Kenny Jackett) not being the sort of managers that bought younger, saleable “assets” to the playing squad, but instead bought players for the here and now, who were less likely to be sold on for a profit. I could use the word “journeyman” but that implies something of a lack of quality, which would be a little unfair. Interestingly they do report an income from loaning out players, and this realised over £270,000 (I’d presume from loan fees) and it was only this that saw their Player Trading produce a positive figure as their accounts showed a loss of £171,269 before adding the loan income back in. The previous year they only made £9,000 from Player Trading, although in Y/E 2020 and Y/E 2019 they did reasonably well. It is noticeable that they have now changed their model, and have been acquiring younger, more saleable, players. The lack of current Player Trading profits of any note leaves Portsmouth’s Total Income at £11,860,250 which puts them 7th of the 17 clubs that report this information, and only about £750,000 above the divisional average. It really does hammer home the importance of Player Trading for clubs at this level, and any club that doesn’t realise this puts themselves at a disadvantage against their peers and rivals.

As I’ve mentioned managers, and I know how much some of you like an anecdote, here’s one regarding Portsmouth managers. My eldest son used to go to school with, and play football with, Matt Taylor. That’s the one recently sacked by Shrewsbury who played for, among others, Portsmouth in their Premier League days. I was talking to him in our garden one day, I think he was playing for West Ham at the time, and asked him what it was like playing for Harry Redknapp and Jim Smith at Portsmouth? He said they would walk around the training ground together, but not take training, as that was left to the coaches. On a match day, he said, the players didn’t see them at all during the build-up to the match. Apparently, they had a little room under the stand, next to the home dressing room, and they would spend the build up in there reading the Racing Post and doing their bets. About five minutes before the players went out onto the pitch, they would appear in the dressing room, give it the big “Come onnnnnnnnnn” with loads of expletives and fist pumping and the players wouldn’t see them again until half-time. After the game the first thing they did was check their bets, and only once that was done, did they come into the changing room to talk to the players, before disappearing again to their little lair to open a bottle of red wine. Somehow, I can’t imagine Pep Guardiola having a routine like that!

Back to the finances. We’ve looked at income, so now let’s look at Portsmouth’s expenditure. You might expect their expenditure on wages to be one of the highest, to match their attendances and match day income, but it’s not. They were 8th in the division for Cost of Sale, and their Total Expenditure was roughly in line with their income at 6th out of 17, and £14.7m against a divisional average of £13.6m. Although they made a loss of £2.9m for the year (17th of 22) they are broadly speaking a well-run club that does not spend beyond its means. I have been told that their playing budget for the current season is over £1m below ours. They had a Wages to Income ratio of 66%, which is below the divisional average of 75%, and good cash in bank of over £2.8m which is more than double the divisional average. But it is their Equity situation that is the thing that really catches the eye, at a positive of over £17m, and the highest in the division. So, what’s the reason for this, and why is their equity position so good? Well, this leads me onto their ownership situation.

It’s fair to say that Portsmouth have had their fair share of wrong’un owners. Serbians, Arabs with no money, dodgy Russians, Nepalese fantasists, Terry Venables, and maybe even Harry Redknapp’s dog, Portsmouth have been owned by them all over the last 20 odd years, culminating in them becoming fan owned, through their Supporters Trust in 2013. As most fans will know, they tottered on the brink for a while, having massively overspent chasing the Premier League dream, while under the ownership of obscure and dodgy incompetents and it all ended in tears (see Reading FC 2024). The fans picked up the pieces, but a supporters’ trust can only ever take a club so far. Many clubs, such as Exeter City are content with this and do it very well. But after four years of frugal living and an expectation that this model would probably only ever lead to them being a lower league club the Portsmouth fans voted to end the ownership by the Portsmouth Supporters Trust and accept an offer from The Tornate Company, of Beverly Hills, California, headed by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

Having had a succession of wrong’uns owning the club, I think Portsmouth are in good and very safe hands with Mr Eisner and Tornate, and they are the main reason for Portsmouth having such a positive equity situation. As of the accounts for Y/E 30 June 2022 Tornate had put £19m into the club by way of share allocations (equity) and since then has put a further £9m in. So, Eisner, through Tornate, has put in £28m so far, and none of it is debt, it’s all equity. They have invested heavily in their academy since he arrived, now own their training ground for the first time in their history and bought the ROKO health club at Hilsea adjacent to it, which they run as a Pompey Health & Fitness, turning over about £1m per annum.

Eisner is 81 now, nearly 82, so won’t be around forever. I met him last year when he was making a very rare visit to Fratton Park, and he comes across as a very decent sort of guy, not at all your typical brash American multi-millionaire. His visit was the first time he’d been over since Covid and he actually wore a face mask at all times apart from when he was eating. The staff at Portsmouth were pretty much treating him like royalty, but he seemed as if he a bit embarrassed by all the fuss.

It will be interesting to see how Portsmouth get on if they get promoted this year (I’m not convinced they will by the way) as they are a club that could sustain themselves in The Championship, especially with Eisner’s sensible guidance and financial help, and I think they have enough sensible people running them now to avoid their previous boom and bust problems.

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