Saturday's game sees the Whites travel the long journey to Portsmouth to face well Portsmouth. A game which is seen as another must win, and Neil Warnock's first full game in charge following his arrival last Saturday. Our opponents Pompey have more financial worries and although Bill from PompeyOnline seems confident the club will stay in business, the recent news stories seem bleak. Although most clubs feel no pity for our situation I do have some empathy towards Pompey, they're a good set of fans who are passionate about their team. From FA Cup finalists a few years ago to near extinction is not a nice site to see.
We might as well get the most depressing stuff out of the way first...what is going on with the club this time and is it any closer to being resolved?
CSI, our latest owners, went into administration themselves due to Vladimir Antonov, the main man behind CSI, being investigated for asset stripping at Snoras Bank, which Antonov was chairman of. As you can imagine, it was an unwelcome interruption to our season! With the club limping along without any cashflow, due to the small problem of having no actual owners any more, we have eventually gone into administration ourselves, the administration application being approved last Friday. Of course, being Pompey, the administration court case had its own drama with the 'preferred' administrator, Andrew Andronikou, being rejected by the adjudicating judge in favour of the administrator preferred by HMRC, Trevor Birch, a name which you might be familiar with! Now, some people might think this is a bad scenario for Pompey but, in reality, I believe it's the best scenario we could have hoped for, and many other fans feel the same. I'll go into the reasons why in the next question.
We've had our problems and we think we're hard done by. But you must be at rock bottom at the moment can you see the club ever getting out of this mess?
I think last Friday's case and judgement was a turning point for Pompey. The situation at the club would take up an article on its own but, in short, for too long the club has been under the cloud of Balram Chainrai and his 'preferred administrator' Andrew Andronikou. When CSI went into administration, charge on the club fell automatically back to Chainrai, our previous owner (as CSI did not buy the club outright) and, when Pompey in turn went into administration, Andronikou was put forward again as administrator, as mentioned above. However, Judge Norris raised publically what many of our fans have been voicing for a while, that he had doubts about Balram Chainrai's debenture against the club and whether he was entitled to any money at the club as a secured creditor, which he and Andronikou had claimed, and eventually awarded the administration to Birch.
This hasn't gone down well with Chainrai (who had offered £500k for the administration, but only if Andronikou was the administrator, which should tell you everything), with his debenture under investigation, with the possibility that it will be found out that he is, indeed, owed nothing at all against the club and that some 'dubious dealings' have taken place. With a new person in to look at the books, and with somebody of Birch's reputation, the fans believe that the truth about what has been happening at the club will come out, and the true nature of any debt (which we believe to be much less than Andronikou claimed) will come to light, thus leading to the club being a much more attractive club to take on. So, in reality, Friday has led to us having more hope than we have for a while, finally there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel!
The deduction has seen you drop into the relegation places, considering you were up in mid-table are you confident of staying up?
I can't say I'm confident about staying up at all, although we do have the team to do it. The problem is, our squad is so tight that we haven't got any flexibility as regards numbers (especially bearing in mind that squad includes the likes of Kanu and Benjani, who aren't the fittest, so I can see burnout becoming an issue for some players. To be honest though, I would take relegation to League One now if it leads to the club being cleaned up and us being able to start again from a good, honest base and to start to get back some of the respect we have lost through this mess. The club's not been helped by being, basically, a handy avenue for, for all intents and purposes, criminals to play a larger money game, but we haven't helped ourselves by not previously investing on the club infrastructure, stadium, facilities etc. That has to be the priority now, and if we can do that in League One and build things up then I'll be more than happy. Obviously though, doing that in the Championship would be even better!
You haven't won in the past four games is this deserved and are the off-field problems causing problems for the on-field matters?
I think tiredness has caused an issue in one or two of the games, but I don't think that off-field issues have caused any real drop in results as such. The players on the pitch, for the most part, are playing for the shirt, and we seem to be building up an 'all in it together' spirit between fans and the squad. What we are lacking is a goal scorer without doubt. Our defence is pretty solid, and our midfield is a good, hardworking one, but we have nothing really up front which is massively effective. Marko Futacs, our giant Hungarian, will be a good striker, and has been this season, but he is young and he needs somebody alongside him. We are badly missing Luke Varney, who provided ammunition and threat from out wide. I think we've been unlucky in one or two recent games, we really put in a great performance at Blackpool and were denied a perfectly good equaliser against Ipswich by a horrendous decision, and it's that sort of luck which you don't need in a position such as ours.
Since we last spoke Michael Appelton has joined and Steve Cotterill has left. How you finding things under Appleton?
Simply put, there's a feeling that Appy could be a very special manager. Obviously, the situation at the club hasn't been one which he expected when he arrived, but he is knuckling down, getting on with the job and getting the most out of the players at his disposal. He is honest, up front and has found a connection with the fans, which we haven't seen at Fratton for many a year. I think you'll be hard pressed to find a fan who would say anything negative about him, with fans only having a fear that another club may come in and poach him away from us over the summer. However, Appy strikes me as the type of person who relishes a challenge and would rise to the possibility of building a club, which he will have the opportunity to do at Fratton if and when we get the right ownership in. I think we're very lucky to have him, especially in the situation we are in. Given the chance, Appy could really take our club on as it should be.
With Benjani and Kanu knocking on a little bit have they featured much this season?
Kanu has basically disappeared since Appleton took over, not even getting on the bench against Barnsley when we only named three substitutes. I'm surmising that this is because of issues with appearance money and his contract but, to be honest, we would only ever see Kanu for the odd fifteen minutes here or there anyway, so his impact on the team would be minimal, especially as he's going to qualify for his bus pass soon. He's been a great servant, but I think we have seen the last of Kanu in a Pompey shirt. Benji still features on the bench, but he hasn't been in the first team and, with a decently fit squad, he would be unlikely to start games, his knees are just shot and he's not the player we was. I wasn't a great fan of Benji's signing earlier this season, it was basically a 'popularity' signing by Cotterill, but the Beni we signed was never going to be the one who was with us originally. Great guy, but I prefer to remember the Benji of his first spell with us.
How do you see Pompey lining up on Saturday?
Anybody who is fit will get a game (and I'm not joking, I'm half thinking about turning up with my boots just in case....). Our squad is pretty threadbare, with injuries and suspensions (yes, I'm looking at you Dave Kitson, you fool) not helping, so we're down to making do with who is left standing. Our defence pretty much picks itself, with Stephen Henderson in goal, who has been brilliant this season, and our likely defence lining up as Aaron Mokoena, Ricardo Rocha, Jason Pearce and Tal Ben-Haim. That might change though if Greg Halford is fit. Liam Lawrence, our captain, is still injured so will be missing from midfield, so Joel Ward, Hayden Mullins and George Thorne will feature, along with the hoped for fit again Kelvin Etuhu. Marko Futacs will likely start up front. All the mentioned, of course, depends on fitness because, over and above that, there's not much left!
Who do Leeds players need to watch out for at Fratton Park?
Kelvin Etuhu has done well since he signed for us on a month-by-month basis, providing pace and power down the right hand side so, presuming he plays, he's one to look out for. He had a good reputation before he went off the rails a bit, and Pompey have given him a chance to get his career back on track, so hopefully he can continue to repay the faith the club have shown in him. Our defence, as mentioned previously, is as solid as any in this division, and Jason Pearce is the ultimate player when you think of somebody who plays for the shirt.
Any Leeds player in particular that has stood out for you this season?
Ross McCormack seems to be doing well for you this season, just the sort of striker we need to be honest (Any chance of a loan with Leeds paying all the wages? Hmmm, thought not) and I'm always a big fan of Robert Snodgrass, who has put a few in for you this season as well. I think you've got a decent loan player there in Andros Townsend as well, with a pretty solid side yourselves potentially even though, of course, you've recently lost your manager (Andros Townsend has left the club today, but me and Bill spoke earlier in the week.)
Prediction for the match?
I am hoping to take advantage of a bit of uncertainty at Leeds and, with a bit of a chance of luck, sneak a win at Fratton Park. I have to admit, I think we might indeed sneak a win and go for a 2-1 win, it just has that sort of set-up to it. If we want to stay up, our home games, with the Fratton crowd behind the team, is where we need to get our points, and Saturday would be a decent day to start. There's a fresh air of optimism about the club again, although we're not out of the woods yet of course, and this is the first home game since we went into administration, so the atmosphere should be a good one, helped by your away support, which should lift the team. Yep, I'll go for a narrow and nervy win but, whatever the result, I hope both sets of fans have a good game and enjoy the day! Best of luck for the rest of the season (save for Saturday..... :o) ).
Big thanks to Bill for his thoughts ahead of the game!