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Pompey look to build on rebuild

Portsmouth's performance last season probably surprised their own fans as much as anyone else. Fresh from a desperate, and remarkable, battle against relegation, most had predicted another struggle.

Harry Redknapp masterminded a turnaround in fortunes which, for most of the season, had Pompey in the hunt for a place in Europe. Only in the final months of the campaign did they fade away. Even so, finishing ninth represented a hugely successful campaign for the south cost club.

Just as in the summer of 2006, this pre-season has been far from quiet for Redknapp who will never shed his image as the king of the transfer market. Whilst 12 months ago the rebuilding process was a necessity, this time the manager was looking to create a squad with true strength in depth that can last the course.

Interestingly, Redknapp, just like Reading boss Steve Coppell, spurned the chance of Intertoto Cup football this summer even though Premier League clubs now only need to win one two-legged tie to reach the UEFA Cup. Perhaps the added pressure of playing a qualifying round in August, thus pushing a Premiership game further into the season, was the deciding factor.

Redknapp has cleared out the deadwood, with woeful Alain Perrin signing Collins Mbesuma finally jettisoned on a permanent basis to Turkish football with Bursaspor. Andy Cole, one of the surprise failures from the last round of strengthening, has had his contract cancelled while squad members Svetoslav Todorov and Andy Griffin make room on the wage bill.

Those coming outnumber the departures and are headed by new record signing John Utaka from Stade Rennes for a reported £7million. He looks set to partner another newcomer, £6million England international David Nugent, in a new-look front line.

It could be a gamble for Redknapp as both will have to prove their worth, and Nugent certainly looked to be suffering from the summer's exertions at the European Under-21 championships during pre-season.

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Utaka, meanwhile, is a former target of Manchester United and although his scoring record in Ligue 1 was not astounding, his pace and power should add a new dimension to an attack which lacked mobility and stamina with Nwankwo Kanu and Benjani Mwaruwari in tandem.

Kanu, it seems, will now be at Fratton Park next season even though he remains out of contract. The former Nigerian international was happy to keep his options open while training with Pompey and will now sign.

It's unthinkable that he will have the same impact this season. Kanu was one of the main reasons the club enjoyed such a superb start - he bagged eight in the first 12 matches.

Benjani will have a role to play and can be unpredictable, in more ways than one, from the bench. Redknapp could, though, play Utaka in his favoured withdrawn position with Benjani paired alongside former Preston North End man Nugent.

Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari is the big name addition in the centre of the park who also cost close to £7million. He is a talented left-sided midfielder with so many different aspects to his game; bringing fighting spirit, stamina, good distribution and tactical sense to the table.

Despite having one of the best defensive records last season, Redknapp has also made three new signings in that area. Sylvain Distin has been hailed as one of the Bosmans of the summer following his move from Manchester City while depth in numbers will come from Hermann Hreidarsson (Charlton) and Martin Cranie (Southampton).

With skipper Dejan Stefanovic also to fit in as he returns to full fitness, as well as versatile left-footed goal-machine Matthew Taylor, competition for places at Portsmouth looks certain to be fierce.

Without a doubt, Pompey appear to be stronger going into 2007/08 but it is goals which will be the difference between consolidation and progress.

Only Aston Villa and Everton had a better defensive record outside of the top four but there was a clear gap between Portsmouth and those above them on goals scored - eighth placed Reading scored seven more.

Nugent, Utaka and Mwaruwari are going to have to perform, because they cannot rely on Taylor to slam another another collection of eight wonder goals this season.

If the new players can settle, and settle quickly, there's every chance Redknapp will be able to mastermind a UEFA Cup place. In truth, and with the bar being raised again in the top half of the table, Pompey may have to settle for a top-half finish. They certainly will not face any relegation problems.

  • Any comments? Email Dale Johnson