New dawn breaks at Boro but fans left wanting more

New signings Luke Varney, David Norris and Greg Halford in training before the Middlesbrough game
New signings Luke Varney, David Norris and Greg Halford in training before the Middlesbrough game
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Never has the prospect of a trip to Middlesbrough been so attractive.

Granted, the town located on the south bank of the River Tees and the setting for the Rolling Stones’ first performance outside of London has a somewhat tarnished reputation.

Full of smog, as the tired cliche goes.

Mind you, having been there, it’s hard to completely disagree.

Nonetheless, Middlesbrough today represented the gateway to the promised land.

It had been the golden fleece to Pompey fans, long hunting it in Jason and the Argonauts fashion.

A new era, a fresh dawn – the mouthwatering start of the season.

Regardless of today’s result, the campaign has been approached with the same optimism and thoroughly good spirits as it is every year.

That’s football for you.

Never has a clean slate been so warmly embraced, irrespective of the papering over of all manner of cracks.

Not that Blues fans don’t have every reason to be buoyant.

After all, they more than most appreciate the first day of term – especially when it also signifies the grand opening of Convers Sports Initiatives’ reign.

It all began today. Life started here.

Such has been the level of optimism among the Fratton faithful, almost 8,500 season tickets have been sold. It is a staggering amount following the false start provided by the previous ownership and their influence over controversial ticket pricing.

As it stands, the figure is not far short of last term’s 9,200 tally – an impressive return considering the battering supporters have taken during the past 12 months.

The famous Pompey loyalty continues to remain unshakable, irrespective of what is happening on or off the pitch.

Except this time the fans are accompanied with genuine belief they are strolling in a golden sunshine towards a glorious destination.

And it’s an exciting vision which will remain unaffected no matter what today’s Riverside result produced.

Barely 12 months ago and avoiding relegation was the realistic ambition.

It was a fate many even feared would be hard to avoid.

They had a point, too, considering the state of the club off the pitch and the abject numbers on it.

The squad size may still be a massive concern but there is now stability and an ownership who, for all their silence, are clearly investing in the football club.

After around two years of fighting hard to survive, progress is gradually beginning to be made.

What’s more, it is in the form of cold, hard, solid, tangible proof.

No spin or hot air around here anymore.

Of course, the priority remains team strengthening – not that anybody connected with Portsmouth Football Club needs reminding.

Ultimately, where the Blues finish this season will largely hinge on the club’s activity during the remainder of the transfer window.

It is clear this is going to be no campaign of struggle, yet the extent of any ambitions will rest on the amount of new faces arriving in the next month.

No wonder supporters are growing ever-twitchy over the lack of transfer activity with every day which is passing.

Finishing above the relegation spots is no longer an option – the optimism flooding through Fratton Park is dictating so much more is required.

There is that word again – optimism.

Perfectly natural when you observe the players who have arrived so far – and ones the club have managed to keep.

Greg Halford was one of the players of last season during two outstanding loan spells from Wolves.

Now he is here permanently, alongside the likes of David Norris, Luke Varney, Jason Pearce and Stephen Henderson.

Not enough, though – there’s still plenty more work to be carried out, as we all know.

At least the foundations are being laid.

But to climb higher, more bricks need to be laid.

As it stands, there are 15 members of the first-team squad, plus new kid on the block Ryan Williams.

At the age of 17, perhaps it is too soon for such elevation.

But needs must and here he is, fresh-faced and eager to make an impression.

Perhaps Sam Magri will also join him before the season is out, while Lewis Stockford and Lewis Tallack are also making progress.

Indeed, the emergence of Williams is another reason to be cheerful during this 2011-12 honeymoon period.

There appears to be a myth surrounding Cotterill that he dislikes youth.

Of all the youngsters he showed the door last season, only Matt Ritchie, Marlon Pack and Liam O’Brien remain in the Football League.

And all are in League Two.

Others such as Paris Cowan-Hall, Jordan Hughes, Tom Kilbey, Ellis Martin, Billy Goddard and Peter Gregory are currently without clubs or whereabouts unknown.

Meanwhile, Perry Ryan has signed a deal to play for the Hawks this season.

But Williams has been fast-tracked into the first-team squad, having clearly impressed Cotterill.

Of course, he also represents another crucial body in what remains a meagre squad in terms of numbers.

Yes, it’s back to that problem again, and what is the most- pressing concern for all Pompey fans.

Not that Cotterill and David Lampitt need educating on the matter – they are as aware of the situation as the rest of us.

Yet that cannot dent too much the good spirits the fans carry with them into the new Championship season.

It all began at Middlesbrough – and it will all end at Nottingham Forest on the final day of the season.

As ever with Pompey, there will be thrills and spills in between and plenty of drama to add to the occasion.

And that is why we love the first game of the season and everything it represents.