Date: 11th August 2007 at 5:22pm
Written by:

Pompey were the guests to Pride Park this afternoon as the 2007/08 season got underway with our trip to Derby, as more than 3000 fans made the journey in expectation of a good start to the season.

Injury kept out Gary O’Neil – was it injury or could it be a move away? – while Lomana LuaLua’s proposed moved to Olympiakos saw him out of the squad. Sean Davis started meaning Matty Taylor had to be content with a place on the bench. Hermann Hreidarsson, Sylvain Distin, Sulley Muntari, John Utaka and David Nugent came in for their official debuts.

Pompey fell behind to an early goal through Matt Oakley, but Benjani levelled before the break. John Utaka marked his debut with what looked like the winner late on, but Derby levelled immediately through Andy Todd to see the game end 2-2.

The Match
Pedro Mendes had sent the games opening effort into the crowd then with their first attack Derby were 1-0 up on 4 minutes! Slack defending, with players not watching their markers, saw a long ball forward flicked on by Steve Howard to the free former Saints midfielder Matt Oakley who gave James no chance.

It was expected that Derby would be looking for a point at any cost but the did not seem to be settling for what they had as they kept pushing forward, with Hermann Hreidarsson being the man targeted, with him also finding the going tough.

Further struggles at the back saw former Pompey captain Darren Moore get himself a free header from a Derby set piece but he did not have enough power or placement to beat David James, who saved comfortably.

Pompey were finding it hard to get any kind of foothold on the game, particularly in the midfield, which for me was seeing Sulley Muntari almost wasted on the left, when he has looked far more effective in the middle alongside Mendes, until a few corner is quick succession saw some pressure put on Derby and Mendes at least testing Stephen Bywater in the Derby goal.

Derby’s ply of making quick breaks and taking quick free kicks almost paid off for Pompey as James quickly set Nugent away who got away a shot, but this was poor. However soon after Benjani levelled the scores at 1-1! A patient build up saw John Utaka and Nugent involved, with the latter picking out Benjani who made himself some space before slotting under Bywater’s body.

Pompey were then starting to cause some problems and a good run from Muntari and then pass to Utaka then saw him try his luck from distance but Bywater was not to be beaten this time.

An open game, played at a high tempo was swaying from end to end with Derby using the wide men particularly well, with Craig Fagan causing all manor of problems and his cross saw Howard rise to head against the post with James struggling, as the half entered the final 5 minutes.

I had half expected a half time change with Noe Pamarot possibly coming on for Hreidarsson, but Harry Redknapp made no changes. And Pompey were threatening within 30 seconds of the half time as we forced a corner from Claude Davis who was under pressure from Benjani.

The early running of the 2nd half was seeing Pompey in the ascendancy then suddenly a mistake from Muntari saw Fagan get away, but with Campbell breathing down his neck he was able to do enough to help put him off before James saved well to keep the scores level.

The game kept swaying from end to end, but no real chances were being created and with 20 minutes to play Redknapp decided it was time for a change and Kanu was sent on in place of Nugent – but could he make the same impact that he did 12 months ago coming on as a sub against Blackburn?

A Heart in the mouth moment came when Derby fans were crying for a penalty under a challenge from Mendes, but Mike Dean was having none of it as he waved away the calls, with this shortly followed up by some fantastic skills from Utaka as he hung his markers out to dry.

With 10 minutes to play Matty Taylor was introduced in place of Muntari.

Soon after this change Pompey were 2-1 up. Sylvain Distin’s free kick was nodded down by Hreidarsson for Utaka to drill home to mark his debut with a goal in the 83rd minute. However immediately Derby were level! As Taylor jumped in against his fellow sub Teale he then crossed to Andy Todd – sent off against Pompey for Blackburn on the opener last season – who finished well to make it 2-2 and so it finished.

Match Summary
When you fall behind away from home you would more often than not take a point. However after coming from behind to lead with 5 minutes to play you would then hope to hold on for a win, but you are often at your most vulnerable when you score – and so it proved today.

Before the game I would have been disappointed with a point, but during it and on reflection a draw and a point apiece was the fairest result from an entertaining match. And credit must go to Derby too, who I was understood to believe they would defend at all costs to ensure they did not lose.

Hermann Hreidarsson has been seen as the weak link by many and it was down his side of the pitch that Derby caused most problems – mostly in the 1st half – although in fairness to him he was being left exposed by Sulley Muntari who was often being dragged into the middle from his wide left position, leaving him exposed.

The start was far too sloppy with Derby’s quick thinking and high tempo causing problems as we started sluggishly, but we soon came into it and both sides looked to attack, but as mentioned the wide men were being caught out of position, often leaving us open on the flanks – something that would have been punished far greater by a better side.

Failure to achieve victory in this match does add further pressure, with the matches against the ‘big 4’ coming up but we should still not fear them. However if we defend as a team against United – and the others – on Wednesday night as we did this afternoon we will be in for a very difficult evening and will lose, but on the other hand if we attack them like we can then we could easily win too.

I am looking forward to seeing a lot more of John Utaka I certainly know that much!


Derby 2 – Matt Oakley 4, Andy Todd 85
Pompey 2 – Benjani 28, John Utaka 83

David James
Hermann Hreidarsson
Sol Campbell
Sylvain Distin
Pedro Mendes
Sean Davis
Sulley Muntari (Matty Taylor 83)
John Utaka
Benjani (Noe Pamarot 90)
David Nugent (Kanu 70)

Substitutes Not Used
Jamie Ashdown
Richard Hughes

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