Niko Set For Early Comeback
Posted August 11, 2007on:
by Bill Pierce, PA Sport
Harry Redknapp’s optimistic prediction that Niko Kranjcar would be out for only a fortnight after breaking his foot looks likely to ring true.
The Croatia midfielder, of whom great things are expected in his second season at Fratton Park, is confident he will soon be back from what turns out to be a stress fracture sustained in a pre-season friendly against Bournemouth two weeks ago.
Kranjcar, a £2.2million buy from Hadjuk Split last summer, has not featured for Pompey since his injury.
And Matthew Taylor – scorer of some remarkable goals last season – will take his place on the left of midfield in Saturday’s Barclays Premier League kick-off at Derby.
New £7million striker John Utaka is expected to shake off an ankle problem and make his debut but might have to wait a while to link up again with fellow Nigerian Kanu.
Having just signed a new contract, Kanu – last season’s top scorer – has missed some pre-season work and may be used as a substitute.
David Nugent, another new striker at £6million, looks set to make his debut, possibly alongside Benjani Mwaruwari who is also pushing for selection after a hamstring problem.
But with five top strikers on board – even though Andy Cole has now left the club by mutual consent – it is a major challenge just to make the bench for former crowd-favourite Lomana LuaLua who notched only two goals last season when beset by personal and injury problems.
Now LuaLua insists: “I’m fully fit and ready to go. I just hope I get the chance.
“The manager knows what I can do and I scored a hat-trick in the Bournemouth game after coming on as substitute. I’m feeling on top of my game and all I ask is for the opportunity.”
Ghana ace Sulley Muntari, Pompey’s record signing at £7.2million from Italian club Udinese, will form a central midfield link with Portuguese Pedro Mendes and if Utaka is used wide on the right, which Redknapp is promising, last season’s most consistent performer Gary O’Neil may have to settle for a start on the bench.
He and fellow midfielder Richard Hughes had ankle operations in the summer and are both ready to play but popular defender Linvoy Primus is still at least two weeks away from full fitness after his knee operation.
It has allowed free transfer recruit Sylvain Distin the chance to establish himself alongside Sol Campbell and could mean a tough fight to get back for Primus at 33 – especially if Pompey look sound in major clashes with Manchester United, Bolton, Chelsea and Arsenal which follow the opener.