Watford 2 Pompey 0

Milan Lalkovic

Pompey team news: Lalkovic starts

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Michael Appleton stood and scrutinised, his face expressionless.

Pompey’s very own Easter Island statue was an immovable object inside the Vicarage Road technical area.

For 90 minutes the brow was furrowed, the steely eyes fixed intensely and the mouth stitched shut.

The 1,727 away fans had certainly made their feelings known.

In the second half, fans chanted: ‘What a load of rubbish.’

But at the final whistle, the tongue-in-cheek humour had been barged aside for a chorus of boos.

In contrast, Appleton was self-discipline itself, the polar-opposite to his predecessor’s volcanic temperament.

Don’t be fooled, mind.

Come 4.45pm on that afternoon, the former West Bromwich Albion coach had already delivered his maiden bombshell.

The likelihood is many more explosions will be felt around Fratton Park before the week is out.

The backlash to Saturday’s abject 2-0 defeat against Championship strugglers Watford has already begun.

Just ask Tal Ben Haim.

The Israeli international surprisingly didn’t appear after the interval, Benjani Mwaruwari instead introduced onto the pitch.

For Ben Haim this was no injury-influence withdrawal, neither was it a precautionary action to prevent a sending off.

Rather he was the first high-profile casualty of the Appleton era.

Pompey’s manager was unhappy with the ex-Chelsea man’s contribution and after 45 minutes hauled him off the pitch.

To think Ben Haim has been one of the side’s better performers this season.

Then again this is clean slate time, there is a new man to impress.

He wasn’t alone either, David Norris was taken off for Abdul Razak in the 71st minute.

As skipper in the absence of Liam Lawrence, it was another bold move by Pompey’s new manager.

Don’t dare suggest the duo will be the last to suffer, either.

Afterwards Appleton spoke of his intention to bring at least two new faces to the south coast before Thursday’s emergency loan window closes.

West Brom appears to be the most likely playing pool to dip into with the likes of Marc-Antoine Fortune and Roman Bednar continually kicking their heels in the stands.

Regardless of the identity of the manager’s targets, if successful you can bank on them becoming immediate starters in his Pompey line-up.

More Ritchie de Laet than Bjorn Helge Riise if you will.

Razak is another who may find himself promoted from the bench having received praise from the gaffer following his Watford introduction.

The Manchester City midfielder is yet to nail down a regular place in the starting line-up since his arrival.

With the sweet aroma of change filling the nostrils, that could well alter.

The players have had the chance to have their say – now it’s over to the former Manchester United midfielder who will have his.

No doubt about it, there will be plenty of this current Pompey team who will soon be fearing for their places heading into the visit of Leicester next weekend.

Considering the talent contained within, 18th spot after 17 league matches is simply not good enough.

A small squad but nonetheless settled side has consistently failed to make a Championship impact this season.

Considering Watford represented the opportunity to create a favourable first impression on the new man at the helm, the subsequent performance was as incomprehensible as it was appalling.

Not that Pompey fans will, of course, be shedding any tears at the prospect of a potential squad overhaul.

In particular those who had the misfortune to witness a woeful Vicarage Road showing, supporters who were left fuming come the final whistle. In fairness to Appleton, he didn’t bother to attempt to dress up the result as anything but the responsibility of his failing players.

By all accounts, he had made his feelings known during half-time, most likely shortly before dragging off Ben Haim.

The likelihood is words were also exchanged in the sanctity of the dressing room shortly after the final whistle.

Puzzling then that some supporters have already chosen to use the Watford loss as ammunition against the new man in the Fratton hot seat.

After 11 days, four training sessions and one match, Appleton requires rather longer to prove his worth.

Not that Pompey managers have a habit of winning starts to their Fratton careers.

Of the past six Blues bosses, Paul Hart has been the only one to taste victory on his debut – that courtesy of a February 2009 2-0 win over Manchester City.

Sure enough, the latest incumbent got off to a disastrous start as Watford netted after just 80 seconds.

There appeared little danger when Michael Kightly picked up the ball down the left channel.

But he unleashed a low shot which somehow made its way inside the near post as the hosts drew instant blood.

Appleton himself, standing inside the technical area, glanced at his watch at disbelief over the timing of the Hornets’ opener.

That would be his vantage point for the remainder of the game, a duration which proved uncomfortable viewing.

On 10 minutes Marvin Sordell should have increased their lead, although he skied over from eight yards out following good work from Prince Buaben.

Not long after the pair combined again but with the same result, as Sordell blazed over when he should have netted.

At the other end, Dave Kitson did manage to put Luke Varney clean through on goal. But as he teed up a shot, Nyron Nosworthy stretched out a leg to toe the ball away for a corner.

On the stroke of half-time, though, the Hornets deservedly stretched their lead.

Mark Yeates’ corner came in from the right and found its way to Sordell lurking at the far post to half-volley home.

Benjani was introduced at the break, the reshuffle prompting Joel Ward to drop into left-back and Luke Varney to the left-hand side of midfield. There was clearly an improvement from the visitors but it was marginal.

Sordell should have grabbed another on 70 minutes when he headed Lee Hodson’s cross over the bar from close range.

Only minutes earlier the Pompey fans were singing: ‘Always look on the bright side of life.’

Still, at least Erik Huseklepp provided the first attempt on target in the final few minutes, a free-kick which Scott Loach turned around the post.

Then it was the final whistle, with plenty of anger from the visiting fans directed towards the Blues players.

Appleton’s feelings were less obvious, although the statement of intent was there for everybody to see.