In our third and final South Coast Derby related post, we preview the game itself. We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both teams, and where the match could be won and lost. By the way, many thanks to everyone who read the Saints/Pompey recent history blog. It's already by far and away the most viewed piece on the website, and has received nothing but great feedback. For those new to the site, thank you for visiting and please stick around for more quality articles and match reports.
Nine of the thirteen players involved in the previous South Coast Derby for Saints are still employed by the club. Of those nine, only five are likely to start however. Radhi Jaidi, who played in that match, is certain to miss out, having missed the whole season through injury. Lee Holmes and Lee Barnard were substitutes in the last meeting between the two sides, and won't be anything more than bit part players this time either. Rickie Lambert, who scored in that game, will be heavily involved yet again this time. As will Morgan Schneiderlin, Dean Hammond and Adam Lallana, who played to their absolute maximum on February 13th 2010. Kelvin Davis will also start for Saints again, providing he recovers from his calf injury. The key difference between the Southampton side today and the one that lost 4-1 nearly two years ago is the defence. Alan Pardew was forced to put out an ageing back line, with Jose Fonte and Dan Seaborne cup-tied. The likes of Wayne Thomas and Chris Perry were unable to cope with Pompey's late counter attacks.
It's less than two years since the last meeting between the two clubs, yet Pompey are almost completely unrecognisable from the side that won 4-1 at St Marys on February 13th 2010. The only players that remain from that day are Herman Hreidarsson and Hayden Mullins. The former is out with a long term injury, so Mullins will be the only survivor from Avram Grant's triumphant side. Pompey were a quick and powerful outfit back then, as they were in 2004 and 2005 in previous Derby day clashes. They have a completely different look about them these days however. The Fratton Park side are now a lot more workman like, possessing a lot less pace and skill. Centre back Jason Pearce had an abysmal game back in March when he was up against Rickie Lambert for Bournemouth. He was at fault for the first Saints goal that day, and was given a torrid time all afternoon. Jamie Ashdown is the only player from the 2005 derby that remains, but he is unlikely to feature on Sunday ahead of first choice keeper Stephen Henderson.
Saints like to keep injury news top secret these days, so it's unlikely we'll hear any confirmed team news until the teams run out on the 18th. Richard Chaplow suffered a knee injury on 26th November at Bristol City, and has been absent ever since. A return on Sunday would be a huge boost, considering Chaplow is the type of player who is tailor-made for this sort of fixture, although I'm not holding out too much hope that he'll be back in time. David Connolly, who we've missed a lot more than some people realise, has been out since early November with a groin problem. Lee Barnard's current condition is unknown, but he was missing from the substitute's bench on Saturday, having been involved in the previous few matches. In truth he hasn't looked half as sharp as he did last season. Rickie Lambert missed Doncaster away with a hip injury, but returned on Saturday to face Blackpool, looking as sharp as ever. I think it goes without saying that he is vitally important to the way we play, and has been key to our success this season. We absolutely cannot afford to be without him at Fratton. Another player who will be hopefully of a return is Kelvin Davis, who was absent against Blackpool due to a calf problem. His replacement Bartosz Bialkowski had an absolute disaster between the sticks, conceding one of the softest goals ever seen at St Marys. You can't say it hadn't been coming. Bialkowski looked shaky in League Cup ties this season, and dropped another clanger in a friendly against West Brom back in July. If he was nervous against Blackpool, just imagine what he'll be like at a hostile Fratton Park. Even the ice cool Antti Niemi buckled under the pressure of it all back in 2005, so what chance would Bialkowski stand? As well as being a much better keeper, Davis would bring an air of calmness to the defence with his experience. Saints go into the South Coast derby with no suspended players. Jose Fonte and Steve De Ridder went into the Blackpool game with four yellow cards to their name, but thankfully both men avoided bookings and are free to play.
Pompey are waiting to hear if Luke Varney will be fit in time to face Saints on Sunday. The striker was forced off injured against Burnley on Saturday with a knee injury. Midfielder Liam Lawerence is back in training and in contention. Israeli defender Tal Ben Haim has been absent for Portsmouth in the last couple of games. Rumour has it Michael Appleton has been instructed not to pick Ben Haim due to the size of his contract, but the Pompey boss strongly denies those claims. "Rumours of Tal not playing are a load of rubbish. I had to pick a squad for the Coventry game and he, unfortunately, couldn't get himself in the squad." Herman Hreidarsson is a long term injury casualty.