Appleton’s delight as Pompey duo stand strong

Kevin Long, right, and Paul Connolly, centre. Picture: Allan Hutchings (122768-725)
Kevin Long, right, and Paul Connolly, centre. Picture: Allan Hutchings (122768-725)

Michael Appleton heaped praise on his new central defensive partnership and admitted: They only met their team-mates 90 minutes before kick-off!

Appleton’s new-look Blues side battled to a 1-1 draw against Bournemouth in Saturday’s League One opener.

That was as Appleton handed 12 players their debuts following a whirlwind 48 hours of signings.

Two of those additions – Paul Connolly and Kevin Long – were not even confirmed until just a few hours before kick-off.

Connolly joined on loan from Leeds, while Irishman Long arrived from Burnley – also on a temporary basis.

Appleton explained he did not even meet the former until Friday and the latter until Saturday.

And the duo didn’t link up with their team-mates until Saturday afternoon.

That didn’t stop them delivering impressive debuts as Pompey picked up a point from their opening-day clash against the Cherries.

Appleton was delighted with what he saw from both players.

He said: ‘I thought the two lads who came in and Mikkel [Andersen] stood strong for us when they needed to. The first time Paul Connolly and Kevin Long met the lads was at 1.30pm in the dressing room.

‘I met Paul in the hotel at 10pm on Friday and I met Kevin Long at 11.40am on Saturday.

‘Kevin had a four or five-hour journey down from Burnley and then put in a performance like that.

‘They came into the dressing room at 1.30pm and that was the first time they met the players.

‘Bournemouth upped the ante in the last half hour and I thought they stood really strong. They will get better all the time.

‘The goal was coming because we were dropping deeper and deeper.

‘But I was delighted with them and how they have come in for their first game.’

Pompey started at a frenetic pace and looked set to overwhelm their opponents in the first-half. Izale McLeod made the breakthrough after 19 minutes, albeit as his shot from 25 yards squeezed through keeper Shwan Jalal’s legs.

But the Blues couldn’t add a killer second goal and eventually ran out of steam as the visitors pushed forward after the break.

Appleton was happy with the point, though, with it coming after putting a team together a short notice. He said: ‘I said to the players before the game no one can really expect us to win the game, other than ourselves.

‘Bournemouth have spent a lot of money on a lot of recruits and look like they are going to have a right go this season.

‘I fully expect them to be in the top three or four.

‘I think the players have bought into what I want to do and there was a glimpse of the type of football we want to produce in the first half.

‘We had one training session yesterday without our centre halves, so we had to be creative with what we did.

‘They are willing to learn and these players are keen to learn.

‘It was a good game of football between two teams who went at each other hammer and tongs.’

Appleton knows his squad is still limited in numbers but joked he would not be registering himself in the coming weeks.

He named just four subs on Saturday with the Football League limiting his squad to 20 players.

The Pompey boss was wary of naming any youngsters for fear they would be counted towards his quota of players.

He said: ‘I won’t be registering myself!

‘We can only register 20 players anyway and we have to get them right.

‘That’s why we had only three outfield players on the bench.

‘My worry is if I put the youngsters on the bench I will get punished for it.

‘That’s my fear.’