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After repeated insistences from Milan Mandaric, Portsmouth's owner, that he wanted a manager with a detailed knowledge of the Premiership, there is something disconcerting in the answer given by the man he finally appointed when asked what he knew of Charlton, his first opponents. "Nothing at all," Alain Perrin said.

That is not a response that would have been given by either Gordon Strachan or Brian Little, both of whom Mandaric named as candidates earlier in the week.

Perrin presumably spent the next 24 hours mugging up desperately on videos, but his predecessor, the Croat Velimir Zajec, who has returned to his role as executive director, would have been capable of that, with or without the dubious bonus of being briefed by David Pleat, who has been named as consultant. As the success of the meticulous José Mourinho at Chelsea has proved, it pays to approach Premiership matches as something rather more than a mock GCSE.

Perrin, in fairness, had been slated to take charge in the summer, so his appointment seven games early is not quite the desperate move it might at first have appeared. Portsmouth's situation, though, is edging towards the desperate, with their last 12 games having yielded just five points. Mandaric's belief that the step from mid-table to challenging for a Uefa Cup spot could be made only by bringing in Zajec - and, by extension, forcing out Harry Redknapp - appears a shot directed at his own foot.

With Southampton resurgent, West Bromwich Albion improving by the week since Bryan Robson took charge and Crystal Palace as doughty as ever, the four-point gap between Pompey and the relegation zone is far from secure, even if Norwich, who face Manchester United today, look doomed.

Portsmouth are unfortunate too that their run-in includes games against Liverpool and Bolton, both battling for European places, and a derby with Southampton, before a final-day visit to West Brom. No away side would relish a one-off fight for survival in the compact cauldron of the Hawthorns, where Albion have not lost since Boxing Day.

In that context, today's match with Charlton - traditionally poor finishers to a season, although the slim prospect of Uefa Cup qualification may enliven them - looks crucial. With Pleat away fulfilling media duties, Perrin will leave team selection to Zajec and Jordan, and the first game in which he will be in full control will come at Birmingham next week. By then, with Southampton, West Brom and Crystal Palace all facing testing away games - at Blackburn, Aston Villa and Everton respectively - Portsmouth could be seven points clear, and Perrin's job be all but done before he has started.

Even were that to happen, though, the longer term remains puzzling. In the light of his comments about Little and Strachan, Mandaric's insistence that Perrin was always his first choice strikes an odd note but, at least until he reached the UAE club Al-Ain, which sacked him in October after three months as coach, Perrin's record was exemplary.

After working under Arsène Wenger at Nancy, he took Troyes from the French third flight to qualification for the Uefa Cup in his first coaching job, and then, seeing enough potential in Didier Drogba to spend £4m on him, led Marseille to the Uefa Cup semi-final and qualification for the Champions League before player unrest and disputed allegations of sexual harassment forced him out.

If there is a concern, it is that his success has come on a relative shoestring. Perrin speaks of top-10 finishes in seasons to come, but the irony is that Mandaric, having spoken of expanding the club's horizons beyond wheeling-and-dealing, has ended up appointing a French Harry Redknapp.

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