Date: 25th August 2008 at 4:05pm
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The real problem of tonight is not that half of the squad is still out. After all, Tevez is back while Hargreaves and Anderson could also play some part. We’ll have to cope without Carrick, Nani, Ronaldo, Park and Saha though…

But it’s not the main problem. Our slow start, the lacklustre performance against Newcastle is bad enough but it does not really concern me ahead of tonight’s game. I’m not even worried by the fact that Rooney is obviously a million miles away from full fitness. But we could cope with that.

What is most distressing that all these things are made worse by the fact that Pompey are our bogey team. Usually, you can say that when United play really well, they win. There are very few clubs who can regularly get away despite being outplayed by us: namely, only two, Blackburn and Portsmouth. Middlesbrough are the third bogey team but we very rarely play well at the Riverside.

But back to Portsmouth. In recent years, it seems like whatever we do we end up losing or drawing at Fratton Park. Our title bid in 2007 was almost derailed by them: a 2-1 victory, memorable for Rio’s bizarre own goal… something like that happens only at Fratton Park.

Calamity James got his name for a reason – yet I cannot remember a single goalkeeping clanger from him against United. More often, in true Brad Friedel manner, he catches the kitchen sink as well against us. That April 2007 game was a prime example or I could cite last season’s FA Cup game when he made some saves he’s clearly not capable of against any other team.

There was the Community Shield. Pompey were outplayed to an extent that was embarassing, they barely managed to string two passes together, they were battered. And the result? 0-0. Why? I do not know. Maybe sinister, supernatural forces were at work. And only those can explain their Old Trafford victory of last season which was, to be honest, daylight robbery.

Last season started similar to this one: a hopelessly depleted squad, deprived of its strikers, toiled to a home draw against a team that set out to defend with ten men at Old Trafford. Then we had to visit Fratton Park.

That game started brilliantly, with Paul Scholes’ trademark goal. And we simply overran Portsmouth, created chances and of course failed to put them away. Still, nothing indicated an equaliser but then, out of the blue, Benjani, who is a hopeless finisher but always seems to be lethal against United, put one away.

The rest of the match was increasinly desperate one-way traffic but Tevez, Scholes, Giggs and co. missed the biggest chances and had to be content with a disappointing draw in a game they should have won by three or four clear goals.

The squad was similarly depleted like what we’ll have today (or like what we had at the Community Shield) and if the performance will be of the same quality then I won’t have too many complaints. The result, though, is another thing: you can never know against Portsmouth. Lady Luck seems to be in love with them but only when they play United.