x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Dowie turns up the heat

Two managers will stand in opposition at Fratton Park with contrasting moods that could lead to contrasting fortunes.

In Iain Dowie, Hull have a man who talks of a gladiatorial approach as he demonstrates an appetite for his nine-game challenge of avoiding relegation.
In Iain Dowie, Hull have a man who talks of a gladiatorial approach as he demonstrates an appetite for his nine-game challenge of avoiding relegation.

Two managers will stand in opposition at Fratton Park with contrasting moods that could lead to contrasting fortunes. In Iain Dowie, Hull have a man who talks of a "gladiatorial" approach as he demonstrates an appetite for his nine-game challenge of avoiding relegation.

Avram Grant appears to have given up the fight; cursing the Premier League's decision to deduct his Portsmouth side nine points for going into administration. Bottom of the table is where they are and, with a 14-point gap to Hull just above them, it is where they are likely to stay. It would suggest there should be only one outcome when the sides meet today and perhaps a factor in why Adam Pearson, the Hull chairman, chose Dowie from a list of candidates, that included Grant, to replace Phil Brown and lead the Tigers until the end of the season.

Dowie simply has no fear as he said: "I want to go into the lion's den and I want it to be a pressure cooker atmosphere. "I want the players to embrace that and enjoy it. Portsmouth will be a big test, it couldn't be a better one. It's a fantastic opportunity to try to put some points on the board. "There's games coming up that whet the appetite. They will almost be gladiatorial. It'll be the old cliche of six-pointers almost every week."

Hull have not won away this season and not since a 1-0 victory at Fulham in March of last year, but Dowie has been at pains to look forward rather than back. The battling performance against Arsenal last weekend - when their 10-men were beaten by an injury time Nicklas Bendtner goal - was ample evidence of his side's fighting qualities. Having spent four years as a player at Portsmouth's bitter rivals, Southampton, there will be an added incentive for Dowie.

He said unity can pull Hull through a difficult period. The club were ridiculed after a recent public row between Jimmy Bullard and Nicky Barmby was witnessed by members of a nearby Women's Institute. The clash was nothing Dowie hasn't seen before; he was at West Ham in 1998 when John Hartson kicked his teammate, Eyal Berkovic, in the head in a training ground incident. "It can spark," he added. "But it's very important we pull in the same way. No one is more important than the direction in which we pull, from the chairman down.

"We must be single-minded and selfless. It's not about individuals, it's about team unity. People will make too much about managers, but it's about the players. If we stay up it'll be the players who deserve the reward. What I will be saying to them is they must try things, express themselves and go out to play; to play with a positive frame of mind, that's the key." That sort of approach might be difficult for Portsmouth, given their current plight.

They are all but down after the points punishment, but an FA Cup semi-final date with Tottenham or Fulham awaits them on April 11. Grant has threatened to field weakened teams until then. It would be done in protest at the way Portsmouth have been treated. It might be admired by some, but questioned by more. Not only would it tarnish Portsmouth's reputation further, but, with games against Chelsea, Tottenham, Wigan and Wolves among those to come, it could potentially affect the outcome of unresolved issues at the top and bottom of the table.

Grant moaned: "You need to give all of the teams an equal chance, which we did not have in this case. There are other teams in debt. What will they do with them?" But the midfielder Michael Brown was in no mood to wallow in self pity. For him and his teammates, pride has been the motivator and respect will be their reward. That might well sway Grant's thoughts on team selection and change his attitude.

"Everybody is always trying to play well for their futures and that's always going to be the case," said Brown. "You need to do well for your football club every time you pull on the shirt. We are here to play for this football club and it has always been about getting points and a win. The supporters are going to be paying their money tomorrow and we are going to try to beat a Hull team in and around us in the table."

akhan@thenational.ae Portsmouth v Hull, 7pm, Showsports 2