Our opponents on Saturday know all about our demise over the past few years, they haven't had it so easy themselves. I interviewed Bill from Pompey Online to get his thoughts ahead of the clash at Elland Road this weekend.
A 94th minute Erik Huseklepp goal gave you all three points on Saturday, how did you play against the recently relegated Blackpool?
Being fair, we got away with one against Blackpool, I think a draw would have been a fair result, Blackpool had a couple of decent chances in the first half, Jamie Ashdown producing some great saves. Our performance, as a whole, was pretty dysfunctional, the team still isn't playing totally together after a fair bit of recruitment over the summer. Saying that, when we brought Kanu on late in the game and gave Huseklepp more of a free reign, it was like watching a different team. I just wished we played that set up a bit more often, and had more consistency, but that should come as the season goes on.
Pompey sit 14th in the table, did you expect any better and what are your expectations for the season ahead?
We've got the squad to be doing better, probably should have picked up another three or four points from the first few games. A couple of our performances (Hull, Cardiff) have been pretty abysmal whilst others (West Ham, Reading) have shown what the team could do. I think a current, at time of typing, 14th is acceptable from where we started at the beginning of the summer. As for my expectations for the season, I think we're capable of a top ten finish and outside shout for the play-offs but, realistically, a nice mid-table finish, with signs that we're going forward and looking for a good push for the play-offs next season, will do me nicely. This season is basically a rebuild..
Steve Cotterill is your current boss, he seems to have done ok from an outside point of view, but what are your thoughts on him?
Fans' thoughts on Cotterill are pretty much split down the middle. He did extremely well last season with the threadbare squad he had, getting us into mid table safety long before the end of the season. This summer, we started with eight contracted players, so he has had to put together a totally new squad and, probably, our position is a fair reflection of that. A lot of issues with Cotterill are to do with his tactics, which aren't that pretty and fairly rigid, the team hasn't been that great to watch to a large extent this season, and many question whether he is making the most of what he has got. However, he's got his squad together and deserves a go with that squad. He's ambitious and obviously has a plan for the club, we'll see how things go!
We signed Michael Brown in the summer after you let him go. I personally think he is far too slow, and looks like an old man in the centre of the park. Was he any good for you, and were you sad to see him go especially after he couldn't play due to money issues?
Michael did well for us, and the team seemed to lose a bit of focus after he went out of the team (I think we're still puzzled as to what exactly happened with the contract issues of Brown and Richard Hughes). He's a tenacious player, gets stuck in and held the team together. However, I think he went at the right time, as I did think he was 'starting to go'. As you say, he's not exactly the youngest and his game was always based on causing a nuisance for the opposition, but there's only so much the legs will give you. We've got a better, younger, more skillful version of him now with David Norris. I'll always wish Brown well for what he gave to the club when he was with us, but I was surprised he signed for a team such as Leeds, I have to be honest, I thought he'd be at a lower Championship side or League One team.
Like ourselves you have had some bumpy times in the past few years. From FA Cup success to relegation and administration. Are you past these troubles now and what have you learnt from these experiences?
Obviously, we can appreciate what you went through over the last few years, now people refer to doing a 'Leeds or Pompey'! The last couple of years have been an absolute nightmare off the field, with various owners, some of whom we are wondering whether they existed at all! We've learnt to be more wary of what is happening as a whole at the club. I still stick to the opinion that, in reality, we weren't doing anything which many other clubs aren't doing even now, so many clubs depend on one person, or few people, to ensure the club remains sustainable. Unfortunately, our owner pulled out, which left the club in extreme circumstances, followed by some highly dubious antics from following owners. What happened at the club was nothing short of criminal, and shouldn't have been allowed to happen. Thankfully, we seem to have come out the other end and our new owners, Convers Sports headed by Vladimir Antonov, Roman Dubov and Chris Akers (a name you'll recognise) seem to be taking the team in the right direction, with sensible investment in the squad and the start of some improvements off the field. Nothing can compare to the feeling we had when we lifted the FA Cup at Wembley, was that worth the resulting turmoil and the money lost by local businesses?
Avram Grant was the man in charge when you went down, I think he was the wrong man straight away he doesn't seem to motivate anyone. Were you disappointed the board didn't get rid of him in a bid to survive?
No, I think we were in a pretty impossible situation that season in the league, we were struggling to survive as a club let alone in the Premiership so I don't think getting rid of Avram would have made much difference. We were though having a great cup run which, of course, found us back in the final against Chelsea (and, arguably, one we could have won considering we missed a penalty when the match was still goalless), and Avram cemented himself as a Pompey hero for that run alone, and his comments about the club and support (say what you will about him, but he knew what to say to the fans). As you say, Avram isn't great in the way of motivation and tactics as such, but I think he was the right man at the right time considering our circumstances.
When Harry Redknapp left he signed many of your current squad and took them with him to Spurs, were you slightly peeved about this?
I take it that you want your article to be fairly family friendly, so I won't put down my true feelings about Harry Redknapp, but will give you a flavour. I think 'slightly peeved' is a polite way of putting things, but not for him taking some of our players with him. We had to lose a lot of those players anyway, as the wages we were paying them were astronomical for a club our size, and the likes of Jermaine Defoe didn't want to be there once Redknapp left anyway. The one I was upset about losing was Younes Kaboul, who gave absolutely everything for us and, apparently, was in tears when he was told we wanted to sell him to Spurs. What I am really angry about as regards Redknapp was his part in getting us to the financial state we ended up in, and the way he played people at the club and the fans over his two periods at Pompey. Redknapp will claim that he only wanted the players, the contracts weren't his responsibility, and it should be up to others to make sure that contracts were affordable, but financial issues seem to be common themes with Redknapp clubs. Put it this way, the FA Cup semi-final win against his Spurs side was extremely satisfying.
Who do Leeds fans need to watch out for on Saturday?
After the last gasp win against Blackpool, we have a new hero, Erik the Viking! Erik Huseklepp's a Norwegian international and was brought in from Bari earlier this summer for around £1.8 million, and has the potential to be a huge influence for us this season. He's got pace, stamina, great touch and the potential to score a cracking goal or two, as he showed against Blackpool. We've been playing him out wide, but I'd like to see him given a more free role, where I think he can be at his most effective. Just give him the ball to feet and let him run at people, that's when he's at his best, and he's somebody who will be a danger at Elland Road. On the day I type this, earlier today we signed Bjorn Helge Riise on loan, who did well at Sheffield United last season. Watch out for the Norwegian Attack!
Every now and again I'll see Kanu still going and scoring the odd goal on the tele, just how does he do it still at his age? He has remarkable feet for such a big lanky man, what do the fans think about him?
Kanu is nicknamed King, which will give you an idea of what we think about him. He's a legend. Have to admit, when we first signed him, even for a free transfer, I thought he wasn't a great signing, and I have never been so happier to have been proved wrong. His goals won us the Cup, and he still continues to be effective for the side, even starting a few games this season and lasting a full 90 minutes in them! He's officially still in his mid-30s. Hmmmmmm. Whatever his age, he still produces for us and can be relied upon to come on and hold the ball up and provide a few tricks, opposition do well to get the ball off him. He doesn't move about that often nowadays but, often, he doesn't need to as he can still take the ball past people with some trickery, and lay it off for other people. Watch for him coming on late on during the game.
Benjani returned to Pompey in the transfer window, where he made his name. Do you think he can find the old form to help you up the table?
Short answer, no. I love Benji, you know that you will get 100% effort from him and I will always wish him well for what he has done for the club, and still continues to do. However, he's lost a lot of pace through injury, which takes away a lot of his game, especially as he's never been a great goalscorer. You'll still see running and effort from him, but we'll never see the old Benjani back, although it's fantastic to see him back at the club. Anybody who enjoys his football as much as he does, puts the effort in and plays with a smile, you can't help but love the guy. What probably doesn't help either is that we're playing him as a lone striker when, really, he needs someone up there supporting him. I refer you back to my earlier answer where I mentioned Steve Cotterill's tactics!
If you could have any Leeds player who would it be?
Over recent times, we've been linked with a couple of players you now have on your books, Danny Pugh and Ross McCormack, and I think both would have proved pretty valuable to our side (even though Huseklepp has been playing on the left where Pugh would have played). However, give me one player I would have in a Pompey shirt and it would be Robert Snodgrass. Can play in midfield or up front, can put in a good cross, provide or stick the ball in the net himself, is just the type of player we could do with. However, nowadays, I think he would be a bit out of our price range! Have heard good reports about Adam Clayton as well, so will be keeping an eye on him.
Prediction for the match? I'm going 2-2, as we still can't defend.
Your defence might be OK though as we're having difficulty scoring! Have to admit, I'd take a draw now, especially as going to Elland Road is always a difficult game. I do think we'll have a more solid line-up on Saturday, as Ricardo Rocha will probably come into the defence, which I think will help things immensely (with all due respect to the injured Aaron Mokoena). The signing of Riise might give us something extra up front, but I'd be more confident about our goalscoring prospects if Luke Varney wasn't suspended, than I think we'd really have good threats up front. But, I'll go for a draw, but I think it will be 1-1. Whatever the result, I hope it's a good game and good luck to you for the rest of the season!