Pompey’s dark horses can silence the pundits

Pompey manager Steve Cotterill
Pompey manager Steve Cotterill
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The national press were in agreement.

‘It’s a bottom-half finish for Pompey under Steve Cotterill,’ chimed the pundits in agreement, as they weighed up the Championship runners and riders on the eve of the new campaign.

Broadsheets and tabloids spoke in unison of a season of struggle for the Blues under new owners Convers Sports Initiatives. Bloggers and Tweeters underlined the sentiment.

Some had Pompey to finish as low as 18th as they attempted to gaze prophetically towards the final table next May.

It was interesting to gauge Cotterill’s response as he was informed of the dismissive air towards his club’s prospects.

Middlesbrough had twice been penned back as his team had picked up a handy opening day point at the Riverside.

The Pompey’s boss’s adrenalin was still pumping in the wake of the game when he was asked about the predictions.

So it was never going to take much to get him fired up again, and he was soon bristling at how Pompey had been written off.

Cotterill stopped short of a tirade at the stories, however. Those who know him will be well aware there could have been fireworks.

He instead chose to note the stance towards his men, and tuck it away as ammunition that could be used to fire up his men at the right time.

It’s been intriguing to see the difference in the perception of the club at national and local level in recent weeks.

In the wider football world, Pompey are perceived as a club still haemorrhaging from the succession of near-fatal wounds inflicted to them in recent years.

Those who follow the club’s fortunes more intimately, however, are feeling an air of quiet optimism sweeping in with the wind of change CSI have brought with them.

It’s not the hurricane of expectation that is swirling around Leicester after the arrival of their Asian owners.

Nonetheless, with eight signings and more expected to follow, Pompey now have the look of a proper, competitive Championship outfit.

Benjani’s return and the arrival of Norwegian international Erik Huseklepp has served to lift fans and their hopes. So it’s interesting to note how Cotterill is playing with expectations – both his own and those of supporters.

In the past week or so he has repeatedly spoken about the owners’ desires to take a long-term view to the club’s progress.

He has been keen to manage the media engagements of his new faces, too, in an effort to temper any hysteria.

All the while, though, Cotterill is having to control his own sky-high hopes.

This is a man who was targeting the play-offs through last season’s shambles.

Cotts’ guard has slipped on occasion when the question has been posed where he is aiming over the coming months.

He couldn’t hide his delight at being able to talk about having a squad of players to call on at Pompey press briefing last week. He knows where that could take them.

His players have been more forthcoming about their top-six hopes this season, too.

It seems a fair ambition when assessing the players the Blues have at their disposal now.

The shadows may still understandably linger over the club in the wider football world.

But they may just provide the perfect cover for Pompey’s dark horses to spring from this season.