Thursday, 9 February 2012

Forethoughts on... Blackpool vs. Portsmouth

Blackpool will be looking to extend their recent run of good form in front of the Sky television cameras as they welcome troubled Portsmouth to Bloomfield Road. Here's your match preview:

1. The Last Meeting

Blackpool and Portsmouth last met back in September at Fratton Park, in what was their first league meeting for 30 years. That day Pompey ran out 1-0 winners courtesy of a stoppage time goal from Erik Huseklepp. It was a game that Blackpool had easily the better of, but failed to convert their best chances before succumbing to a heartbreaking late goal. The man who took a portion of the blame was Matt Phillips, who spurned two very good opportunities - incredible to think that was fewer than five months ago given his dazzling form lately.

Tom Ince was the one who impressed on the South Coast making his first league start, appearing comfortable with the ball at his feet and always a threat for the Portsmouth defence. Yet whereas Phillips has gone from strength to strength since returning from his loan spell at Bramall Lane, Ince has gone backwards slightly and could drop out of the side for this weekend with a glut of other attacking options open to Ian Holloway.

Another curious difference from the last encounter between the two sides was the make up of Blackpool's substitutes - Mark Halstead, James Hurst, Hill and Daniel Bogdanovic were all on the 'Pool bench alongside Ludo Sylvestre. Ian Holloway has decided against having a goalkeeper on the bench since the departure of Mark Howard, James Hurst is currently involved in a relegation battle on loan at Chesterfield, Hill hasn't been seen since his performance at West Ham, while Rochdale opted not to extend the loan of Bogdanovic. The strength of Blackpool's bench for the return fixture will demonstrate just how far the Seasiders have come since then.

2. How They Play

I asked the good people over at When Sol Went Up for their inside knowledge of Portsmouth. Here's their view:

Pompey have flitted between 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 all season, although Michael Appleton seems to be playing a 4-4-1-1 of late. By virtue of the tiny squad (the smallest in the league and the second smallest in the Football League), there are not many significant selection dilemmas, other than up front - Portsmouth haven't scored enough goals this season so are still searching for the best striker combination. Considering the squad issues, Pompey have a number of relatively recognisable options, namely Benjani, Kanu and Dave Kitson - but they are all out of favour at present because Marco Futacs, a young 6ft+ Hungarian has been scoring goals (three goals in six games, a total Kitson has managed in 18 starts).

The next question is who plays in the supporting role - at present Erik Huseklepp the Norwegian striker (who starred in this comical fruit advert) who has shown flashes of quality, but has been frustratingly inconsistent, currently holds the position. The midfield is fairly steady, and David Norris will return having served a recent suspension. He will play alongside Liam Lawrence and Hayden Mullins who both have significant Premier League experience. The other choice to be made is who to drop for Norris - either Kelvin Etuhu (a former Manchester City trainee who was released following a stint in prison following an assault who signed on a free transfer and seems to be doing OK as a strong midfield presence) or Joel Ward a local lad, 20 yrs old and a utility player who was subject to a transfer deadline day bid from Ipswich Town.

There are no choices to be made in defence. Greg Halford will play at right back, Jason Pearce and Ricardo Rocha in the middle and Ben Tal Haim at left back. The defence is solid, the midfield experienced and the current strike partnership youthful and willing. As Blackpool fans you will recognise a number, if not most, Portsmouth players, but the squad has very limited depth and at the moment the club is in turmoil with the financial situation coming to a head (£1.6m is needed by 20th February) with the players and staff unpaid last month. The motivation of the players is the greatest concern, along with awful away form - with just two wins on the road all season, Pompey will go into the game as underdogs.

3. The Key Men

Blackpool - Matt Phillips

Phillips Jnr. is the man everybody's talking about at the moment, and with some justification. His form over the last couple of months has been sensational and he followed up his two goals at Cardiff City with another strike in mid-week against Sheffield Wednesday. With his confidence high, Portsmouth will do well to keep a tight leash on the former Wycombe man. As mentioned by his manager this week, Phillips appears to have learned that he doesn't need to snatch at chances, with his shooting now a lot more accurate. Matt Phillips should have had at least one goal down at Fratton Park, and he will be eager to carry on atoning for his wastefulness earlier in the season.

Portsmouth - Marco Futacs (by When Sol Went Up)

21 year old, 6ft 5, and purchased from Wolfsburg, Futacs looked like a punt that had gone wrong until Appleton gave him his chance. Three goals in six starts is a decent return but it is yet to be seen if this is beginner's luck or whether he will develop into a quality player. He leads the line well and when you have a player with Liam Lawrence's quality in terms of delivery, a player with Futacs' height should always be able to get goals. He shouldn't be so important - Kitson, Benjani and Kanu should all be able to get goals, but they haven't managed that this season and now the pressure is on Futacs' substantial shoulders

Blackpool - Ludo Sylvestre

After being rested for the trip to Wales last weekend, Sylvestre returned to the side in the FA Cup and capped a splendid performance with a rare and well-taken goal. Despite this, with competition for places throughout the team so fierce, Sylvestre isn't a certain starter. However, Ian Holloway has favoured the Frenchman for home games lately when 'Pool have often set up in an attacking shape, so he could well keep his place. At his best Sylvestre can move the ball quickly and has a penchant for backheels and flicks to frustrate the opposition. With a little more help in midfield if Holloway does opt for a 4-2-1-3 formation, Sylvestre can help Blackpool dominate games.

Portsmouth - Liam Lawrence (by When Sol Went Up)

Lawrence started like a steam train at Fratton Park. He was brought to Portsmouth in what might have been deal of the century with the overrated Marc Wilson going to Stoke and Lawrence, Kitson and a couple of million pounds coming to Pompey. However, Kitson has struggled and Lawrence's form nose-dived at the end of last year - a recurring injury has meant that he has been unable to recover his form. Yet he still has quality, and with Luke Varney injured and Huseklepp even more inconsistent than Lawrence, the team is overreliant on Lawrence in a similar way to Futacs.

4. The Form Guide

  • Blackpool sit 3rd in the form table based on the last six games with four wins, one draw and one defeat
  • Portsmouth lie 14th in the form table based on the last six games with two wins, one draw and three defeats
  • Blackpool have won their last three home games and are unbeaten in the last seven
  • Portsmouth have the fourth worst away record in the Championship, winning only twice away from Fratton Park

Up The 'Pool Prediction

With the form Blackpool are currently in, one would expect them to continue this run against a Pompey side under the threat of liquidation. As has been the case in many recent home matches, breaking the deadlock will be the tricky part, but taking the lead at Bloomfield Road is surely overdue as the Seasiders start to set their sights higher than just a play-off place.

Expect Blackpool's run to continue - 2-0 home win.


Thanks to When Sol Went Up for their contribution to this piece. You can also follow them on twitter - @wswu.


  1. Think you'll find Halford at left-back and Ben Haim at right-back as was the case in the last few games.

    Also Appleton has preferred to play Norris in the hole behind the striker but I suspect that given Norris has had a hernia operation while he was suspended that he'll be on the bench with Huseklepp keeping that role.

    I'll add that I watched Futacs get a lesson from Birmingham grizzly centre-half Caldwell on Tuesday evening who enjoyed the physical battle.

    The boys from "When Sol Went Up" are also under-estimating the amount of money required by HMRC on the 20th as February's PAYE payment needs to be added to that £1.6m.

    1. Cheers for the extra input.

      How much is owed in full? And do you think you'll get another reprieve?

  2. I reckon that it will be in excess of £2.5m by the 20th.

    Reprieve is an interesting word. I don't think that the footballing world quite appreciates what has been happening to our club since Sacha Gaydamak appeared.

    Sacha was bankrolled by his father Arkadi Gaydamak (convicted money launderer by the French courts but found innocent of gun running to an African civil war as he had the right permits to sell weaponry). Anyway, PFC problems start when an Arkadi business deal in Israel goes wrong and his assets are frozen by the Israeli courts in October 2008.

    Until October 2008, we were run as a sugar daddy club like Bolton (but had actually won silverware). The debts weren't huge in relation to the income from being in the premier league. Once the support tap stopped flowing, the club eventually ran out of cash as our then CEO robbed Peter to pay Paul on the balance sheet.

    By August 2009, there was no more money in the pot. Had the club gone into administration at that point, the club would be in a healthier position. There were two potential buyers at this point - Al Fahim who had been fronting for Thaksin Shinawatra in May but the Fit and Proper Test made Shinawatra pull out but Al Fahim didn't for his own motivations.

    The other consortium "Al Faraj" turned out to consist of all the Israelis who were suing Arkadi Gaydamak through the Israeli courts - what a coincidence. Included in that August consortium was Chainrai & Kushnir (who I'll return to).

    When the Gaydamaks found out who was in the Al Faraj consortium, they sold to the naive Al Fahim the club but kept the land around Fratton.

    The brief Al Fahim reign was undermined by the behaviour of our then CEO Peter Storrie who was in the Al Faraj camp and he turned the fans against Al Fahim.

    Al Fahim sold to "Al Faraj" Falcondrone company (based in the tax haven British Virgin Isles) the club. A whole sorry business then occurred between October 09 and January 10 which I won't go into. What you need to know is that Chainrai & Kushnir's company Portpin (another tax haven based company) lent £17m to Falcondrone and acquired a mortgage charge against PFC for that "loan". The football club never saw a penny of the £17m but gained a legal charge. Coincidentally - the amount owing by Arkadi Gaydamak for the business deals in Israel was £17m.

    It was Chainrai who placed PFC into administration in February 2010 thanks to the £17m charge he possess. Portpin then "bought" PFC out of administration in October 2010.

    In January 2011, Portpin placed a charge over the newco PFC which was a transfer of the old charge from the old company.

    Last summer, Portpin sold PFC to Convers Sports (CSI) for £17.2m.

    In November, CSI major shareholder and money man Antonov sees his banking empire seized by the Lithuanian government for suspected fraud. Chainrai places a charge over CSI for £17m then puts CSI into administration.

    Checking with Companies House, Chainrai's charge over PFC had never been varied or satisfied so he owns charges against both PFC and CSI. £17m is the recurring figure.

    Now, nobody sensible or clean will pay £17m for Portsmouth. Its a crazy amount. There's interest but at market prices.

    For fans who understand the situation, we just want the parasites Chainrai & Kushnir out of our club. Them and their mythical £17m debt that PFC never received. We would even welcome liquidation than have these parasites continue to attempt to recover a debt that isn't ours from the club. And I could tell you a whole lot more about the situation, this was the briefest skim over the surface.

    1. Interesting stuff - thanks for sharing that, a lot of information in there I wasn't aware of.

      One question I have, is that taking into account past (and ongoing) problems, how could so much money continue to be invested in the squad?

      I understand the size of the squad is very small, but there are a lot of big names there presumably earning decent money, and not just the legacy ones who signed long-term deals a while back.

      From a Blackpool point of view for example, you signed Luke Varney after we couldn't agree fee/wages, yet we have vast untouched millions from the Premier League while you have enormous debts, be they mythical or not.

  3. Actually we don't have enormous debts compared to say Ipswich Town or Nottm Forest these days. The CVA agreement (secured and unsecured) is under £20m against about £24m due in parachute payments. Add in what's due in transfer payments and you're still covered by what's remaining in the parachute payments. So that balances each other out.

    Obviously when CSI took over, they increased the budget for the playing squad with agreement from the football league which required them to subsidised the club but their spending wasn't like Leicester's was. We also had a manager who wanted a small squad - its 18 senior professionals then the academy kids. Its tiny. I would point out that we had 9 professionals retained for this coming season so a squad had to be assembled.

    I accept that signing the likes of Kitson and Lawrence on big wages whilst we were in administration looks daft but the club received a cash payment for Wilson with them.

    CSI were thought to be the real deal by our current CEO (ex FA Head of Integrity) Lampitt and the Football League when they took over last summer. Their business model wasn't out of kilter with a lot of league clubs (Forest needing £12m a year from their owner). What that says about the league is more the question.

    As I understand, CSI invested £10.8m up to November when things fell apart. That's not all on players though, they spent money on the stadium and the training facilities, sorted out some legacy issues such as owing Spurs £1m. It looked a coherent if limited strategy from the outside. They put out fires and made small incremental improvements.

    Anyone buying the club will be able to purchase that £10.8m CSI debt for a nominal sum (£10k or something stupid like that). Chainrai's charge is merely a representative figure rather than a value that needs to be paid. If the market price for PFC is agreed at £3m then the charge will be bought as part of that price.

    These debts aren't a problem as long as the seller asks a reasonable price for them. And if I was a new owner buying these debts, I wouldn't write them off - they are far too useful in reducing tax liabilities.