x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hart can make up for lost time

The two Premier League teams with UAE owners have had differing early season fortunes.

Portsmouth's Papa Bouba Diop, bottom challenges Fulham's Dickson Etuhu during Pompey's opening day defeat at Fratton Park.
Portsmouth's Papa Bouba Diop, bottom challenges Fulham's Dickson Etuhu during Pompey's opening day defeat at Fratton Park.

Now that he has firmly pinned his colours to the mast of Portsmouth, the chess-loving Sulaiman al Fahim's next moves will have to be carefully planned yet decisive. Fratton Park has been a hive of activity since the Abu Dhabi businessman confirmed he had become the sole owner of the club.

But what happens over the next three days will have a huge bearing not only on their season, but their future. After three successive league defeats - their worst-ever start to the Premier League - Portsmouth host Manchester City today in desperate need of a lift on and off the pitch. Ironically al Fahim played a part in the City takeover by Sheikh Mansour just over a year ago, announcing their ambitious plans to challenge for honours.

Now he is on the opposing side where expectations at the club from the south-west of England are a lot lower. Safety, not success, will be the immediate target and top-flight consolidation the long-term aim. While the two clubs are enduring contrasting fortunes at the top and bottom of the table, Portsmouth may have to follow the example of the Eastlands side when it comes to their transfer policy, albeit on a smaller budget.

The manager Mark Hughes revealed City's dramatic squad overhaul, which has seen 12 players arrive since January, was a three- to five-year plan achieved within eight months. His counterpart Paul Hart now has three days left, before the transfer window closes on January 1, to ensure his team are well prepared for the challenge ahead. Since al Fahim's announcement, he has brought in striker Tommy Smith from Watford, the Tottenham midfield pair Kevin Prince-Boateng and Jamie O'Hara, who is on loan, and tough-tackling Michael Brown from Wigan.

Other potential arrivals include defender Mike Williamson, also at Watford, and, Amr Zaki, now back at Zamalek after his initially successful loan spell at Wigan last season. Hart is feeling more upbeat following the conclusion of the ownership saga. "The fact something is signed and sealed with regard to the ownership is of comfort to every- body," he said. "We've been waiting a long time for it and now the club can take a step forward.

"We're trying to improve the squad within a limited budget and prove we're capable of staying in the Premier League." Brown, who spent six years at the start of his career with City, is not worried by Portsmouth's current plight. He added: "It's only been three games, it's early days. We've just got to do our best and put up a fight." City's sights are set much higher after a confident start to the season, including away wins at Blackburn and in the Carling Cup at Crystal Palace. They have yet to concede a goal too and, with Joleon Lescott set for his league debut, Hughes hopes that run can continue.

"There's a real resilience to us at the moment," he said. "For us to improve so quickly on the road is very encouraging. "The key thing is for us to continue with the momentum we have built up over the last few weeks. If we can continue that, we'll go into the international break in good heart." akhan@thenational.ae Portsmouth v Manchester City, KO 4.30pm, Showsports 1 & 2