Appy reveals Pompey pressure concerns

James Baxendale scored Walsall's opener at Fratton Park    Picture: Oliver Zee
James Baxendale scored Walsall's opener at Fratton Park Picture: Oliver Zee

It was part of the lure of Pompey when boss Michael Appleton outlined his Fratton Park vision to wannabe Fratton heroes in the summer.

A big club with a massive passionate following that would be the envy of every other club in League One.

There was no need to mention the Blues’ illustrious most recent past ­– a 2008 FA Cup win, a return trip to Wembley in 2010, the taming of European aristocrats AC Milan and a best-ever finish in the Premier League – the players were already lining up in their droves to be part of the project.

But six league games into the new season and those players Appleton chose to lead the Blues’ fightback from the brink may just be showing signs of feeling the weight of expectation.

A response to going 2-0 down against a Walsall team who have yet to grace England’s top tier shouldn’t have been considered a challenge to far for the new class of 2012.

Yet so it proved, despite striker Izale McLeod’s 69th-minute net-buster.

Pompey failed to test the shot-stopping skills of visiting keeper David Grof in the minutes that proceeded McLeod’s third goal for his new employers – a statistic that mirrored a first-half that saw the home side promise plenty but, ultimately, fail to deliver in front of goal.

The Blues’ current cause, of course, isn’t helped by their continued search for new owners, a eighth month in administration and a playing mix-match squad restricted to 20 professionals.

But from the team he’s constructed on a shoestring budget in ultra-quick time, Appleton expected more than what he witnessed on Saturday.

And with a second home defeat of the season to mull over, the Blues boss was left wondering whether the job at hand and the pressure of playing for a club of Pompey’s standing at this level was a step too far for some of his senior players.

‘The fans are fantastic again on Saturday but there’s a couple of players failing to deal with that at the minute really which is a bit strange,’ said Appleton.

‘Maybe not so much the younger ones – but maybe some of the more experienced ones.

‘There’s a lot of pressure on some of the older players.

‘We’ve got a few younger players in the team who at times might need dragging along and going with the crest of the wave at times but everyone’s got to realise, especially the senior players in the team, that we’re a big scalp.

‘We are a big scalp, and whoever we play is going to want to turn us over.

‘We’re going to get that in every game.

‘The players were expected to do it on Saturday and it just didn’t happen for them.

‘I just don’t think we worked quite as hard as they (Walsall) did.

‘I’m not making a great deal about that because I think there was a lot of effort and enthusiasm out there but it wasn’t enough.

‘Maybe it’s a hunger thing.

‘But, at the end of the day, it’s still early doors.

‘I’ll learn more about them, like I’ve always said, when we lose a game and I certainly learned a lot about one or two of them on Saturday.’

Appleton said he was impressed by the young side Dean Smith had assembled at the Bescott Stadium, but admitted his side was well-equipped to deal with the threat the Saddlers posed.

‘To win down here was a scalp for them,’ he said.

‘At the end of the day they’ve got a good young team.

‘They’re very athletic and a very fit side, because of the youthfulness of the side.

‘They played some decent stuff out there at times so I take my hat off to them.

‘But we should have dealt with them better.’