Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Encouraging signs for AFCB

You can say that Portsmouth are not world beaters being a League Two side, but a team can only play the teams in its own division, and aim to be the best, and they tested AFCB scoring three goals which led to Eddie Howe stating that there is more work for the Cherries to do. Yet, like Eddie I saw some elements of the game that really encouraged me for next season and considering that there was not much time to prepare for the Pompey match, I was really pleased to see that the players were working really well for each other and the new signings were quick to get a hold of what Eddie Howe demands of his teams.

Lewis Cook was a great example of what fans can expect to see in terms of work ethic and intelligent play. While Lewis was finding it difficult to get into the flow of the game in the first 15 minutes, he soon picked up the challenge and started to direct where he wanted the ball played and made himself available as much as possible, by changing angles and creating space. It was only natural for many of the AFCB players to start looking for him and giving him the ball, as he was that comfortable in wanting to set up play and I though he out shone Harry Arter on the day, which is no discredit to Harry who always works hard.
Lewis Cook sharpens up his shooting as Marc Pugh looks on.
I was even more enthused by the qualities of Lys Mousset. While I expected him to be taking more of a junior role in taking his lead from the players in and around him, he was having none of that, and was making himself the focal point of the attack in the second half. Lys is more powerful than you might believe, and I think his explosive bursts of energy will offer a valuable threat up front. He thinks quickly as well and you'd have thought he had been playing with the Cherries for several months, not just a few weeks.

Coming to the man who Liverpool fans are quite split over, in whether he should or should not have been sold, I thought Jordan Ibe was again an inspiring player to watch. Call him the Matt Ritchie upgrade if you want, but there are qualities about Jordan that are on a different level to many players in much bigger sides than AFCB. He'll go straight into the starting line up and will be a huge player for the Cherries. Just his touch and the sharpness of his movement were too much for Pompey's payers who could not get near him. When he scored his goal it was almost like the Pompey players were bemused - well what could we possibly have done to have stopped that? Ibe was just enjoying himself and if he keeps that up, we'll be calling his signing an absolute masterstroke.

So the 500 or so AFCB fans who were at Fratton Park saw some excellent entertainment. I am looking forward to the match at Reading, which I'll be at, but I'd recommend that fans try to get to at least one of these pre-season friendlies to get a look at the squad as there is plenty to admire. Things are getting exciting! UTCIAD!

Match Day Gallery now has photos on it from the Pompey away game.

Transfer News
Brad Smith is due to have his medical at Dean Court today. Hopefully, Tony Pulis at WBA will also allow Jonny Evans to speak to AFCB.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Brad Smith is a clever target for AFCB to go for

Having already enticed Jordan Ibe away from Liverpool over the summer it is slightly unexpected to see AFCB go back in again to try and lure Brad Smith away from the Merseysiders as well. These are young players that have evolved in one of the best academies in the country and having had first team action with Liverpool, Brad Smith will have played with far more pressure on his back than he would if he comes to play down at Dean Court and that just could be a big bonus for him that could help him to flourish.

AFCB fans may want experienced stars that have already made their name but Eddie Howe may well yet go to try and sign Jonny Evans from WBA to make the defence a more experienced unit. By signing Brad Smith though, he has again looked at the future potential that this Australian international player who had admirers at Liverpool in good number, even if the fee £6m knocked some back a little. The point is that AFCB do not have strength in depth and that was clearly shown last season when a crop of injuries showed how they were down to the bare bones. Eddie wants quality two deep for every position and Smith can play on the left side of midfield as well as left back and I'd expect he'd also consider being a centre-back.
Brad Smith No 44, with Lucas after the match at Dean Court last season.
Would Brad Smith be a player that I'd automatically have in my mind for AFCB to sign? Probably not, but he has the age profile, the Liverpool FC football education and the opportunity now to prove himself at a club that is also growing. I wonder if Eddie has been speaking to Sean O'Driscoll who has been Liverpool's past assistant manager as recently as 2015, and if he has passed on some guidance about Brad Smith. Of course AFCB have also seen Brad play against them in the cups and he made his Premier League debut against AFCB last April. 

It is a good match and I'd rather AFCB get players in that are looking to improve themselves than a host of players that have their best years behind them and nothing to prove. We'll see how good the Slatan Ibramovic's are soon enough when Man Utd turn up, AFCB's need though is for defenders that want to learn fast and improve on the number of clean sheets the team had last season. The young Liverpool players showed how good they were when they played against AFCB in the league last season - Brad Smith was certainly one who impressed.

Premier Talk: Will David Moyes make Sunderland better?

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Cherries have to settle for a draw at Fratton Park

Match Report
Portsmouth 3 v 3 AFCB 
22 July 2016
Attendance 5153 (531 AFCB fans)
Portsmouth and AFCB take on each other and the heat.
When this fixture was planned, nobody would have expected it to be a sweltering 82°F at Fratton Park and the heat soon gave a warm welcome to new look AFCB and Pompey teams that so often delighted, and then occasionally frustrated, both sets of fans in a competitive match. The Cherries fell behind early to a Gary Roberts strike and when Lewis Grabban slotted in an equaliser on 25 minutes, Pompey retook the lead straight after from a Michael Smith tap in, after Adam Federici had spilt a shot. Even at 2-1 down at half time, AFCB had plenty of quality off the bench to come, and the equaliser came from a keen to impress Jordan Ibe, who fired in at the near post, with some 22 minutes to go. The Cherries must have thought they had won it when Dan Gosling tucked away a third, in the 81st minute, but a late goal by Adam May meant that both sides would settle for a draw.
Pompey supporters gather around the ground.
The starting team line up for AFCB was fascinating with Eunan O'Kane assuming a new role at right back which suited him well, and Charlie Daniels partnered Simon Francis in central defence. Rhoys Wiggins then had the chance to play at left back. Wilson and Grabban were given first opportunity to play up front, and new signing Lewis Cook partnered Harry Arter were in central midfield with Pugh and Fraser on the wings. 
Portsmouth before the match do their warm up.
Eddie and Jason in the dugout.
A warm welcome for AFCB's new captain.

Ryan Fraser was sprightly in attack and had the first shot that was well held by Alex Bass, Pompey's keeper. AFCB had looked controlled enough but with the ball quickly lost in midfield, Gary Roberts latched onto a through ball. Francis scrambled across the 18 yard box to try and cover, but he failed to stop Roberts who rode the challenge and curled a low placed shot past Federici and into the bottom left corner of the net to give Pompey the lead on three minutes - 1-0

AFCB kept playing their football from the back and their slow start might have been expected having only travelled back from the US mid-week. Lewis Cook and Harry Arter were battling to get some control back and Wiggins and Pugh began a few sorties up the left wing in response to going behind. 

Portsmouth were enjoying this though, winning a corner and putting pressure back on AFCB. There was not enough composure about Bournemouth' play and the odd misdirected pass from Lewis Cook. Yet, Eunan O'Kane was playing extremely well in marshalling new signing Milan Lalkovic. The best early move followed for AFCB when Lewis Cook drove down the right and found Lews Grabban in space only for the ex-Norwich marksman to shoot narrowly wide!

16 minutes had gone and AFCB were warming up to the task. Arter was still hitting the odd pass too strongly, but Lewis Cook was starting to make first touch forward passes his theme and it was putting AFCB on the front foot.

However, Roberts was still a threat. The ex-Huddersfield man linked up with Carl Baker who shot just wide of the left upright! Pugh was having more touches now but when he did find Grabban the touch let Lewis down again. Luckily Ryan Fraser gathered up the remnants and beat his man to reach the byline, and he pulled back a low cross that Grabban slotted home from six yards to make it 1-1 on 25 minutes.

The Cherries' fans celebrations lasted all of a minute. A long driven shot from Enda Stevens was not held by Federici. It fell at the feet of Mathew Smith who gladly accepted the invitation to stab home Pompey's second - 2-1. Federici slung his bottle down in the net with measured anger!

It took 28 minutes for the Cherries to win their first corner and from then on just about every one was taken short. Mark Pugh almost grabbed a spectacular goal with an overhead kick but it was somehow kept out by a Pompey body on the line! Callum Wilson was finally getting involved and was pushed to the ground in the box, but he got nothing for his appeals. Ryan Fraser's claims were similarly dismissed moments later when he needed some medical attention for the clip he took.

Simon Francis took no prisoners though in ploughing through Danny Rose who was superbly slide-tackled, but half time had arrived an AFCB were still 1-2 down.
Half time and the subs warm up.
Second Half
We expected changes and sure enough Eddie made five in bringing on Ibe, MacDonald, Gosling, Mousett and King. Ibe would play on the right, King on the left and Mousset through the middle, as AFCB lined up in more of a 4-5-1 formation now with Arter the only midfielder from the first half remaining on the pitch.

There was a wild shot from Danny Rose early on but nothing to scare Federici until Mathew Smith needed a good block from Daniels to prevent him from extending Pompey's lead. 

I mainly concentrated my gaze on new signings Lys Mousetts and Jordan Ibe. Mousset's movement was excellent in making space for Gosling to slip him passes. Ibe's touch was also very good and Pompey's defence was quickly taking note of his skill and trickery. 

After the hour Pompey started making a procession of subs following one they had made at half time. Off came Smith and Curtis Main joined the game. Danny Rose was also replaced by Noel Hunt.

There was a slower pace to the second half but O'Kane was still racing up the right wing and pulled back a god cross for King. Once Mousset found some space, on the edge of the box, he then drove in a shot with little back lift that Alex Bass did well to keep out. 

At the 70 minute mark more Pompey made another change - Doyle made way for Dan Close. It may have made them lose some concentration as Jordan Ibe put their left back on toast before rifling in a shot to beat Bass on his left side, low down - 2-2

Ibe took a bow in front of the AFCB fans, he  loved that! And it was kind of a signal - there's more of that to come this season. Eddie and Jason immediately stood up and roused AFCB to go and get a winner.

The 'Olés' started to ring out for more than a minute as AFCB played keep ball only for Adam Federici to almost gift a goal to Portsmouth. He lost control and hit his clearance at Noel Hunt. Luckily Federici recovered quickly to make it difficult for Hunt who settled for a corner. Francis then had everyone laughing even more when he did a handstand in trying to tackle Noel Hunt just over half way - he just about kept his balance!

Pompey now piled on the subs - Barton, Doyle and Haunstrup entered the game. They may be timed it wrong again, as Mouset set about their defence and a Wiggins' cross was pounced on by Dan Gosling who made it 2-3!

Pompey's response? More subs - Davies, Oxlaide-Chamberlain, May, Tollit and Davies! I'd lost count by this stage. Josh King was still running through the middle of Portsmouth's defence. Ibe switched to the left and Mousset was tried on the right wing.

AFCB made one last sub bring on Matt Butcher for Rhoys Wiggins who was applauded off. He'd worked hard on the day. But all AFCB's work seemed a bit cut down on 88 minutes when a Tollit shot deflected in by Adam May made it 3-3. What a finish!
A good workout for AFCB.
Summary
A truly enjoyable day was had a Fratton Park. It was great to see some new names and to see the team play with an attitude of fervent attack. What will Eddie take away from this game? Eunan O'Kane can play at this level at right back - can he do it in the Premier League? Francis is the best tackler, but has lots to learn about being a centre-back and averting trouble. Adam Federici has an error or two in him which means it is hard for him to be a number one, although Boruc has the same problem. 

The big plus points - Lewis Cook excelled and his first touches were very creative. Lewis Grabban has started scoring goals and he has his smile back. The introduction of Lys Mousett and Jordan Ibe in particular showed that AFCB will have several options when they need to get a goal in games when coming from behind. All-in-all a promising start to pre-season, but shots on goal and making the keeper work would still be the buzz words in training.
Arter enjoys taking his boots off as Ibe spots someone in the crowd.
AFCB starting XI
Federici 5, O'Kane 7, Francis 7, Daniels 6, Wiggins 7, Fraser 6, Arter 6, L Cook 7, Pugh 6, Grabban 6, Wilson 6

Subs
Gosling 6, MacDonald 6, Ibe 8, Mousett 7, King 7, Butcher 6.


Transfer Gossip
Brad Smith of Liverpool is another defender believed to be targeted by AFCB, says The Sun. This almost reads like a done deal for £6m but Brad is still in the USA on tour. 

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Jonny Evans linked with move to the Cherries

WBA and former Man Utd defender Jonny Evans has been linked with AFCB today by the Daily Mirror. There is no doubt in my mind that Eddie Howe needs to bring in a quality centre-half and Evans would fit the bill with his experience and leadership qualities. 

Jonny Evans only moved to WBA in August 2015 and quickly became a fans favourite. The Northern Ireland international has been out in France over the summer playing in the Euros in some strong displays with the Irish reaching the last 16. Whether his value has risen greatly since his £6m move last year is a difficult one but a fee of £7m to £8m would still be a big fee for AFCB to pay out for the 28-year-old. 
Jonny Evans limbers up with team-mates ahead of the
last game at Dan Court last season. Could he feature
 in the first game of 2016/17 at Dean Court for AFCB? 
If AFCB can sign a defender of this quality, the possibilities for becoming a stable club in the Premier League would be enhanced greatly. He is a player that is known as a strong tackler and able to play out from the back calmly under pressure. It is thought that WBA themselves are chasing Brighton defender Lewis Dunk as a possible replacement which is an interesting link seeing that the Cherries had been thought to be interested in the Brighton player.

Premier Talk: Steve Bruce exits side door left! where will he reappear?

Pompey have strengthened over the summer

Having just got off the plane, AFCB are walking into another game - this time it's the Alan McLouglin benefit fund match. So what have Pompey been up to since their play-off defeat to Plymouth earlier this year. Signings have been coming in and a few names have departed but Portsmouth will be up for the contest having given AFCB a close call in last year's FA Cup match at Fratton Park.

Pompey's latest signing is striker Curtis Main who was bought from Doncaster Rovers on a two-year deal. The 24-year-old was on loan at Oldham last season and scored just four goals and 18 games. Fellow striker Michael Smith has also signed from Swindon Town having been on loan at Pompey. They have also strengthened their back line with the signing of Tom Davies who was released by Accrington Stanley. Drew Talbot has been picked up as well having been released by Chesterfield. He is a 29-year-old full back.
The Pompey line up against AFCB when they met in the FA cup last season.
Like AFCB, Portsmouth have also been looking at wingers and they have brought in 23-year-old Milan Lalkovic from Walsall. Experience in midfield will also be given by new signing Carl Baker who has transferred from Milton Keynes Dons and Danny Rose who was the first summer signing and was bought from newly promoted Northampton Town. Matt Clarke who was on loan at Pompey lat season from Ipswich also agreed to join Pompey over the summer. 

Those who won't be available include Gareth Evans who has a knee and ankle ligament injury and is not due back in pre-season. Pompey's player of the season midfielder Ben Davies has also moved on to Grimsby. Defender Adam Webster has left for Ipswich Town. Meanwhile, AFCB favourite Danny Hollands is currently out of contract but may agree terms with Pompey on a new contract.

That all said, AFCB will be playing a very different team to the side that it played in the fourth round of last season's FA Cup. Ryan Allsop also kept goal for Pompey in the play-offs and I'm not sure they were that impressed with him having been rather at fault for one of Plymouth's goals in the play-offs.

Injury and team news
The Echo has given an update on injuries - Andrew Surman and Ryan Fraser should feature for AFCB v Pompey today. Benik Afobe will train next week after he received the all clear on his knee scan and Steve Cook's thigh strain is only expect to keep him out two weeks. Bailey Cargill has a groin strain and Junior Stanislas is not expected to feature either. Nathan Aké is being rested and Emerson Hyndman and Adam Smith, Tyrone Mings are also not available on the longer injury list. Shaun MacDonald might have to come in at centre-half for this game. It may be a case of who is still standing! It's pay on the door at Fratton Park.



Friday, 22 July 2016

Tough pre-season schedule will test Cherries

This week the games have begun with a winning start in the match in the USA against Minnesotta United FC. It will be a relief to the players to finally get a match under their belt and the competitive nature of being in the US training camp has certainly galvanised team spirit. Now the fans want to see how that is going to develop on the pitch and the first chance us UK-based followers will get to see them over here comes up on Saturday of course against Pompey.

I find it is becoming almost a second ground for AFCB fans going to Fratton Park. It is a great old stadium though and I like mixing with their fans who are always accommodating and have long memories of yesteryear. 

The AFCB players have little time to recover after their long flight either and Pompey could well be playing the Cherries at a good time for them. They will be disappointed about not having gone up last season and they will need to gain momentum again. Beating an AFCB side has not been possible for them though in recent years, and I hope that the Cherries don't get complacent as they fully tested the side that was put out in the fourth round of the FA Cup for the Cherries. Sutton United gave Pompey an early taste of defeat this summer and AFCB will be looking to do the same.
Fratton Park is up next.
There is not so much AFCB connection with Pompey at the moment. Matt Tubbs moved on to Forest Green Rovers this summer but Danny Hollands is hopeful of a new contract with the club. 

Moving on to Reading on Friday 29th June provides another difficult game again and with the Cardiff friendly booked for the next day it gives Eddie Howe the chance to play and compare two different AFCB sides close together. Hopefully, Yann Kermorgant lines up against the Cherries at the Madejski stadium but we won't see Kenwyne Jones in the Cardiff game as he has moved to Atlanta United in the MLS, stateside.

The Valencia fixture will see AFCB face their stiffest competition in readiness for the Man Utd home match and I expect this fixture has been carefully picked to give the first team as harder game as they dare before taking on Mourhino's side. AFCB should be ready for that game when it comes along but they will have packed a lot in to during the previous month.

The US has been good for AFCB

I have had a good view of some of the recent videos of AFCB training out in the USA. They have certainly been some pretty intense sessions and that is the nature of Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall in leaving no place for any player to hide. To get the first game out of the way against Minnesota United FC will also have been pleasing for the players who know now they have to get in match mode for the coming season.

It is especially good to hear from Emerson Hyndman and Nathan Aké admitting that it is not so easy to just walk into the side. They have been made to work hard and you can see Lys Mousset very keen to grab himself a water bottle whenever he can in the video clips. I do hope that the lads don't over do it either in trying to impress. Hamstrings and knocks come all too frequently to those who press a little too hard. I heard that Steve Cook pulled up in the warm up before the 0-4 win over Minnestoa United FC, but Emerson Hyndman (ankle) has not been training an is out for a couple of weeks while Benik Afobe is to have a scan on his knee. Adam Smith, Junior Stanislas, Nathan Aké, Ryan Fraser, Andrew Surman and Tyrone Mings - all took no part in the action - I hope there are no other casualties!
Steve Cook is a doubt for the Portsmouth match.
AFCB were at the top of the stats for running last season and even though some Premier League teams have already played a few warm up matches I think that AFCB are well set up in keeping it fairly low key in the teams they are to play in pre-season. Having only lost a few first team members it really depends how soon some of the new arrivals find it easy to fit in that matters. The comradery will have been boosted by the US trip and it's all about carrying that on now into the remaining pre-season games and the first session of Premier League games.

All the teams say that this is the most important time in how well a team will do over the coming season. Get this training wrong and a failure to integrate players into a group can cause problems later on and leave a side playing catch up. AFCB seem to know where they need to be though with about a month to go before the opening game and like last summer the US air has got the players away from UK media to a large extent and has enabled them to focus on what matters - themselves.

Don't forget to look on FiftyFiveOne's website for a report of the Minnesota game and that Sammy Ndjock own goal!