‘At one stage I thought I’d be the only one left!’ – Tom Jeffes reflects on the summer exodus from US Portsmouth to Moneyfields

Tom Jeffes admits he had ‘extremely low expectations’ as to how many US Portsmouth players would remain loyal to the club once ex-boss Glenn Turnbull was announced as Moneyfields manager.

By Simon Carter
Friday, 3rd September 2021, 12:48 pm
Captain Tom Jeffes in action for US Portsmouth during their midweek Wessex League Cup tie with Bournemouth Poppies. Picture: Chris Moorhouse
Captain Tom Jeffes in action for US Portsmouth during their midweek Wessex League Cup tie with Bournemouth Poppies. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

And the Victory Stadium captain joked at one point he thought he’d be ‘the only one’ from last season’s FA Vase semi-final squad remaining for USP’s historic debut season in the top flight of the Wessex League.

As it was, the likes of Jack Chandler, John Cass, Frankie Paige, Dan Sibley, Brodie Spencer and Cam Quirke - all apart from Chandler fringe first teamers in the 2020/21 fairytale - have all stayed as well.

A host of new faces were brought in and, so far, have gelled well under new boss Tom Grice and Jeffes, who is now assistant manager as well as skipper.

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Joe Johnson scores US Portsmouth's opening goal in the 3-3 Wessex League Cup draw with Bournemouth Poppies. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

Though it’s very early days, who would have predicted USP would be above Moneyfields and Portchester just a few games into the new campaign?

‘I know we’re always going to be the underdogs because we lost around 15 players, the whole management structure, a few reserves and a few youth teamers (to Moneyfields),’ said Jeffes.

‘In a funny way, I was never that concerned (about the exodus to Moneys). At one point Gricey and I were picking the starting XI for the new season and me and him were the centre halves.

‘My expectation levels were extremely low. I thought at one stage I’d be the only one left.

‘It would have been more of a blow if we’d banked on around 10 staying.’

US have bolstered numbers by signing players with a Wessex League background such as Blu Boam, Jack Barker, Ryan Smart and Connor Saunders, plus ex-Pompey Academy skipper Obi Saidy.

Turnbull always bigged up the USP team spirit as a reason for their on-field success and Jeffes believes that will still be integral to this season’s primary ambition of establishing themselves in the top flight.

‘We’re probably the only team in this division without a budget, not even travel expenses,’ he remarked. ‘We’re playing the likes of Moneyfields, Fareham, Portchester and we need to be able to offer the players something. We can’t offer money so the camaraderie is a huge part of what we’re doing.

‘This is one of the toughest Wessex Leagues for years. It’s not like last season when you could turn up some days and expect to be 3-0 up at half-time.

‘If you don’t turn up you could be 3-0 down at half-time instead. Players are that much sharper.’

That was virtually the case last Tuesday when US found themselves 3-0 down inside 39 minutes at home to Bournemouth Poppies in the Wessex League Cup.

Grice had previously mentioned his confidence in the USP defence, but Poppies could have scored even more before the hosts remarkably hit back to level.

Netting once before the interval, US laid siege to the Poppies goal in the second half - eventually levelling in the 97th minute, before losing on penalties.

The direct running of players such as Joe Johnson, Sibley and Spencer caused the Poppies numerous problems, and that could be a tactic which hurts more Wessex Premier clubs in 2021/22.

‘If you’ve got pace you’ll kill people,’ said Jeffes, who as a defender knows all too well the problems of facing players running at you.

‘We need to get Sibbers, Joe Johnson and Brodie Spencer in the right areas - trying to isolate defenders and going direct at them. Their pace is a big asset for us. They do offer something different,’ he outlined.

‘Last season we didn’t have that pace and directness going forward - Sweeney (Andrew Todd) and Dec (Seiden) gave us other qualities.

‘I’d say nine of the 11 had an off-day in the first half (against Poppies). You can carry two or three but you can’t carry 90 per cent of the team.

‘There were some strong words at half-time, but we played well in the second half - we looked like a side again. If the game had gone on a bit longer we’d probably have won. ‘That’s why we weren’t too disappointed in the end - penalties are a lottery - and the second half performance was the sort we expect.’

USP were facing high-flying Bashley at the Victory Stadium this weekend looking for a third successive Premier win.