Kenny Jackett's mission improbable to win back disillusioned Portsmouth support
Mark Catlin tells the story of an email received in the aftermath of defeat at Coventry in February.
Pompey had claimed nine successive victories ahead of that trip to St Andrew’s, representing a club record since inducted into the Football League.
On a bitterly cold Tuesday evening, the majestic run was ended with a 1-0 defeat at their promotion rivals in a tight contest.
The following day, the Blues’ chief executive received an email calling for the dismissal of Kenny Jackett.
Naturally, Catlin replied by holding up the remarkable feat of winning nine straight games.
The subsequent response accused him of spinning statistics and repeated the call for the manager’s removal.
It’s a tale which beautifully sums up Jackett’s predicament.
The manager has no room for manoeuvre among a supporter base whose majority want him sacked.
Not even nine consecutive triumphs could appease some back in February. Seven months later, he possesses even fewer friends.
Each League One draw and every Carabao Cup defeat is greeted with rising decibels of discontent.
Then arrived Saturday’s dismal loss to Wigan, signalling a first league and play-off defeat at Fratton Park for almost 17 months.
It’s win or bust time for Jackett – yet even success may not be sufficient to bring a disillusioned fanbase back onside.
There are supporters who have lost faith in the 58-year-old’s footballing beliefs and judgement. It is now a fractured relationship, irreparable in the eyes of many.
In the meantime, Pompey’s boss ploughs on, with the loyal backing of the owners and a contract ticking down towards expiry amid a financially-devastated climate.
An outstanding win ratio of 52.02 per cent from 173 matches in charge may no longer warrant applause from a proportion of the Fratton faithful, yet it’s acknowledged in glowing terms within the boardroom.
Incidentally, remove cup competitions and the League One win ratio remains a lofty 47.69 per cent – a league return beaten only by Paul Cook in the last 70 years.
What’s more, in 2020, Pompey have recorded 29 points from a possible 48 in League One, with two cup defeats in their nine fixtures at the hands of Premier League pair Arsenal and Brighton.
Jackett’s record bears up to scrutiny, certainly on paper when the figures are laid out.
Yet, in truth, that isn’t the chief issue among Pompey’s support. Rather the manner of football which has so far reaped 90 triumphs in all competitions under their manager.
Winning no longer satisfies the appetite. To many, these are merely hollow victories. They crave spontaneity rather than functionality, effervescence rather than efficiency.
Beating opponents no longer brings a smile, grinding out results is not to be rejoiced. The stomach still rumbles.
Still, Jackett can slam on the table three top-eight finishes, two play-off semi-finals and two Wembley finals from his opening three south-coast seasons in League One. A haul which will invariably impress the vast majority of football.
His reputation in the game is undiminished – and rightly so. This is a shrewd operator who has previously won League One with a record points tally and triumphed in a play-off final at Wembley.
Highly respected among supporters of Wolves and Millwall, he will comfortably command a position elsewhere should the time ever come for him to depart Pompey.
There are members of the Fratton faithful, however, who are beyond such affection. The real issue emanates deep beneath the surface. Familiarity has now bred contempt.
As a consequence, Jackett, a good man and model of professionalism and courtesy, inhabits an unenviable managerial existence. Presently, with every decision and each result, he is being buried under a landslide of criticism.
Take, for example, an out-of-sorts John Marquis and his two glaring misses at Rochdale, resulting in the striker himself admitting culpability through a Twitter statement.
Many instead chose to open fire on the manager for being unable to get the best out of a player who has certainly failed to live up to a lofty reputation established at previous club Doncaster.
In September, there was a 4-0 defeat at Brighton in the Carabao Cup, a thumping loss influenced by sloppy defending, prompting more calls for the manager’s head.
Incidentally, of Brighton’s starting XI that night, seven appeared in the Premier League last season, totalling 166 games and five goals between them.
Of the others, there were international performers in Viktor Gyokeres (Sweden), Jayson Molumby (Republic of Ireland) and Joel Veltman (Holland), while keeper Jason Steele represented Great Britain ahead of the 2012 Olympics.
As for striker Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who netted against Bournemouth and Chelsea in last term’s Premier League, he had been recruited by the Seagulls for a club-record fee, reported to be £17m.
In the last week, Jackett has received criticism over the club statement which announced Gareth Evans’ departure. It contained words of thanks from chief executive Mark Catlin, rather than the manager.
The following day, in the aftermath of the 2-1 loss to Wigan, the Blues boss did pay tribute to Evans. Some ridiculed him for having the nerve to talk about his former vice-captain.
As for him bringing in ex-England under-21 boss Peter Taylor to take Pompey’s wingers for a one-off coaching session as a favour – and at no cost to the club – that also didn’t go down too well.
Jackett is trapped within an eternal no-win situation. It’s unhealthy, nonetheless this is the reality in which he must continue to exist.
The club are standing by their manager, unswayed by public opinion which has yet to make its voice heard inside grounds this season. For now, Fratton Park is rendered silent.
Jackett presently finds himself with a hell of a challenge – to not only win matches, but also the hearts of the Fratton faithful.
The two aren’t always connected. As Jackett is discovering during his tenure as Fratton Park boss.
Still, victories dampen criticism and success lowers toxicity. For the Blues boss, it represents the only solution. Perform for Pompey and let everything else fall into line.
Regardless, it will require a mammoth managerial performance to tempt back those fans who have left his side over the past year. Mission improbable.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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