2008/09 Pompey in review - December
After a hectic November which saw the blues play 7 games, December was to be equally as exhausting, perhaps even more so with a trip to Germany to start it off.
Defeat in Germany against Wolfsburg would end Pompey's European tour, just when the fans had started to get used to it. Even a draw would more than likely eliminate the Blues. Within 3 minutes, Pompey found themselves behind after a low strike from Dzeko beat David James and left The Blues staring defeat in the face. But 10 minutes later, Pompey had turned the game on its head. First from a Wolfsburg corner, Armand Traore showed off his pace to the Germans and Defoe scuffed into the net to end a fabulous counter. 3 minutes after that, Arnold Mvuemba gave Pompey the lead with a deflected strike from just outside the box. But before the travelling army of blues fans could celebrate the Frenchman's first (and only) ever European strike for the visitors, parity was restored and after 23 minutes the score was 2-2. There was only to be one more goal in the game and this went to the Germans, who capitalised on a rare mistake from David James. As the ball was rolled back to him, he calmly played it to Zvjezdan Misimovic, who rounded him to knock Pompey out of the competition, despite David James coming out on top when Misimovic saw his penalty saved shortly afterwards. Wolfsburg incidentally went on to win the German Bundesliga.
Back on English soil and Tony Adam's team had to travel to West Brom, who had been rooted to the foot of the table for some time and hadn't won in 9 games. It was the hosts who took the lead however, with Jonathon Greening deservedly sticking the Baggies in front before half time. The Blues seemed to liven up for the second half and Peter Crouch's 20 yard strike, which seemed to clip a defender, was enough to earn Portsmouth another point.
It was on this day that Alexandre Gaydamak confirmed the recent speculation about selling the club was true, although he assured the fans it would be sold to someone who has the clubs interest at heart, also claiming he had turned down several offers. With this news, rumours started circulating about the departure of some big names, such as Defoe, Diarra and Johnson.
Back at Fratton Park, Newcastle were the visitors in a game where Pompey paid a high price for not taking their chances. Defoe and Crouch could have had a few goals apiece before the break as Pompey edged an open encounter. However, it was the always injured Michael Owen who popped up to skilfully scoop the ball over the England keeper and into the net. Pompey still looked dangerous and threw men forward in an attempt to equalise with Pamarot and Defoe both coming close. But inevitably, they were to left to rue these chances as Martins coolly slotted home Newcastle's second. With Pompey looking deflated, the Geordie's had time to add insult to injury, as Guthrie's shot was lazily palmed into the back of the net to give Newcastle a flattering 3-0 victory.
Pompey were back in business 3 days later, with their final Uefa Cup match against Heerenveen. The words on everyone's lips prior to this game were "Dead Rubber Fixture". Both teams we're unable to qualify regardless of the result, which gave Tony Adams a chance to try out a few squad players. Ashdown, Pamarot and Wilson we're named in the starting line up, and it was Marc Wilson who set up the first goal with a terrific pin-point cross met by the head of Peter Crouch five minutes before the interval. Crouch doubled Portsmouth's lead 2 minutes later after a terrific mazy run by Kanu. He should have been taking the game ball away with him after missing two guilt edged chances but it was not to be. In the closing seconds, Pompey sealed the win thanks to a rare goal from Hermann 'The Iceman' Hreidarsson.
With the distraction of the Uefa Cup gone, Pompey could focus on the league, with recent form suggesting that they could yet see themselves in a relegation scrap after a promising start. If performances were anything to go by, they'd be worried by the time they left the Reebok stadium.
It was nearly inevitable that Matty Taylor was going to score against his old club, but not many expected it to happen before most home fans had taken their seats. And if Super Matt's strike after 60 seconds wasn't bad enough, he then set up Ricardo Gardner to double their lead before the 3 minute mark. Even worse, they should have had more before Gardner's strike. Pompey had to settle down quickly, and after 20 minutes, the game seemed to be back on with Peter Crouch nodding home from the back post after a cross from Krancjar. Pompey had rare glimpses at goal, but they were few and far between, and Bolton should have scored many more. Hermann "The Herminator" Hreidarsson had Pompey's best chance of the second half, but his header floated over the bar. Bolton dominated proceedings and were unlucky not to expand their lead, being thwarted several times by the woodwork and some desperate defending. A brief cameo from Lassana Diarra was to be his last action in a Pompey shirt.
Portsmouth's final home game of a topsy-turvy year was against a West Ham team struggling to score goals, little did they know they were in for a treat on a chilly Boxing Day early afternoon.
Nadir Belhadj continued to impress as he struck Pompey into an early lead, and as the half progressed, he linked magnificently with Armand Traore on the left hand side to play some quick and exciting football. However, youngster Jack Collison was on hand to equalise after 20 minutes, striking through a crowd of players and past David James. Jermaine Defoe had a golden chance to put Pompey back in the lead from the penalty spot, but he struck it low and wide of Robert Green's right hand post. This was to be his last major act in a Portsmouth shirt. After the break, West Ham struck twice with the counter attack, firstly with Carlton Cole tucking home after Collison hit the post, and then with Bellamy speeding through to rifle a shot past David James, despite the England keeper making a great stop from his first attempt. 15 seconds prior to Bellamy's goal, Marc Wilson, on his Premier League debut was unlucky not to equalise after seeing his header strike the post. Craig Bellamy completed his man of the match performance with 7 minutes to go with a neat finish. The result didn't reflect the performance, however, this was becoming a common phrase around Fratton Park as the Blues started to slip down the table.
The year ended with a trip to the Emirates, in a game where anything but a loss was a bonus. Tony Adams returned to his old stomping ground where he had spent 22 years and played over 500 games. After all this time, it seemed he may have got one over on his old manager Arsene Wenger and managed to scrape a point. The Portsmouth defence on show seemed to be in a different league to the one that had shipped 14 goals in their last 6 games, and 9 in their last 3. There wasn't much in the way of creativity and Pompey were happy to sit back and frustrate the Gunners. Sylvan Distin was on hand to stop Adebayor once he was through on goal, and Pompey went in at the break on level terms. This trend continued in the second half with Sol Campbell showing his old club that he still can perform in the top league. However, it was not to be his day, as David James, who had made two similar mistakes, was made to pay at the third time of asking, when he came for a ball that he got nowhere near and William Gallas headed home to give the Gunners all three points. On a plus for Portsmouth, it was a mature performance, with Marc Wilson looking like a great player in the making, and Papa Bouba Diop looking like the player we first signed.
After a poor December, which saw 1 win in 7, a meaningless victory in a competition that we we're already eliminated from, things seemed bleak. Within one year we had bought some quality players, won the FA Cup, and were now on the verge of seeing this talent leave the club again. Defoe was on his way to Tottenham, Diarra to Real Madrid, and Pompey were on a slippery slope to sub-seventeenth in the table. With the New Year came a new challenge, to stop the rot and keep Premiership football on the South Coast.
PLAY UP POMPEY!