SEASON REVIEW: December
December was a busy month for Pompey, starting with a League Cup quarter final followed by 6 league games in 25 days. Uncle Avram was looking to steady the ship and lift the blues off the bottom of the league.
But up first was the Carling Cup match against Aston Villa at Fratton Park and despite having a great chance to get into the last 4, Avram made several changes, leaving out the two main strikers, Dindane and Piquionne. But this didn't seem to matter when after 10 minutes a corner from Danny Webber was sliced into his own net by Petrov. This lead lasted less than 2 minutes however as Emile Heskey, who has made a habit of scoring at Fratton Park over the years, calmly finished after a ball through from Milner. Milner turned from provider to scorer soon after as he curled a cracking shot into the far corner. The second half saw Pompey create plenty, but true to form they were unable to convert them and they were made to pay with 15 minutes to go as the impressive Downing capped off a fine performance with a header that Begovic couldn't keep out. Kanu gave fans a bit of hope by scoring with just minutes to go but Ashley Young put the game out of reach in stoppage time to give Villa a 4-2 victory.
Pompey players had not been paid yet again for the month of November and behind the scenes it was still unclear what was going on. Fans frustration levels reached new highs as protests outside the ground were now becoming a common event.
On the pitch, Grant clearly had survival as his main priority after his team selection against Villa, and the home match against Burnley was his first chance to show that he could get the best out of his players. But it was the visitors who started the game the better with Asmir Begovic having to come to the rescue on a number of occasions. The Blues had a rare stroke of luck on the half hour when Hreidarsson won a penalty after going to ground under the challenge of Wade Elliott. Replays showed it should not have been a penalty and to be fair to the Herminator, he never claimed for the penalty. Dindane took responsibility with the spot kick, despite Boateng scoring from the spot in the last league game, and justice was done for The Clarets when his weak penalty was saved by Jensen. The Ivory Coast striker had another chance before the break, but couldn't decide whether to go for goal or square to Boateng, so instead he tried a combination of both, and fired well wide. Burnley continued to outplay Pompey in the second half and Begovic once again pulled off some great stops. The deadlock was broken halfway through the second half when Kanu came off the bench and provided the cutting edge that Pompey needed. After a precise one-two with Hreidarsson, the Iceman finished like a striker into the far corner to give the blues the lead. Kanu continued to be the catalyst and nearly helped double the lead with a great ball to Boateng who failed to finish, before the lead was doubled in the closing minutes, Dindane nodding home O'Hara's cross from close range.
Next came a trip to the Stadium of light where Portsmouth took on an in-form Sunderland. On a chilly winters day in the North, neither team were spectacular and it was the hosts that took a deserved lead through leading scorer Darren Bent. Pompey continued to defend well but barely got out of their own half, and Andy Reid could have ended the game in the closing minutes if his free kick would have went in, instead of shaking the frame of the goal. The game was 3 minutes into stoppage time when Pompey got their reward for a gritty performance. A scramble from a corner saw the ball fall for Younes Kaboul, who prodded home a priceless equaliser. His emotional celebration saw him take his shirt off and get his second booking, despite just returning from suspension.
Avram Grant came within a penalty kick of winning the Champions League for Chelsea less than 18 months before this, so his return to Stamford Bridge was always going to be an emotional one. It was top against bottom at the Bridge and it only took 23 minutes for Chelsea to take the lead through Anelka. They had chances to pull further ahead but at the other end, Pompey had a great chance when Hreidarsson failed to steer home a rebounded Piquionne shot. Pompey looked dangerous from set pieces and the travelling support were delirious when O'Hara's free kick pin-balled across the box and Piquionne smashed home. Pompey then surprisingly had chances to win it, with Ashley Cole blocking Boateng's effort, before the Ghanaian had a glorious chance to win it, but slipped at the vital moment with the goal at his mercy. After this, the outcome was inevitable. Wilson brought down Ivanovic with 10 minutes to go and Lampard smashed home yet another penalty against Portsmouth to take all three points.
Pompey had another game against a 'Big 4' club just 65 hours after their narrow defeat to Chelsea, this time taking on Liverpool at Fratton Park. Liverpool were having a poor season by their standards and were limited to a few long ranges efforts in the opening exchanges. Pompey were also crafting some decent chances and just after the half hour, they took the lead when Belhadj hammered home a volley from a tight angle after Reina saved Boateng's shot. On the stroke of half time Liverpool were reduced to 10 men after a horrible tackle from Mascherano on Ben-Haim left both men in a heap. After this Pompey looked comfortable. The Reds couldn't hold onto the ball and Pompey could have been well clear long before Piquionne doubled the lead in the last 10 minutes with another cracking finished on the volley. It was a great performance that warranted the 3 points that brought them level with 19th placed West Ham, with only 1 goal separating the two sides.
How fitting it was then, that on Boxing Day, the big fight would be between the two sides scrapping it out at the bottom of the table. A loss here for either side would be a big right hook to their survival hopes and send them ever closer to being knocked out of the Premier League. After a tense sparring period at the start of the match, Mullins's challenge was deemed to be below the belt as he gifted his old club a penalty which Diamanti put past Begovic. Of all the people to have Pompey's best chance, it was Tal Ben-Haim, who went on a mazy run before fluffing his chance with a wayward shot. West Ham were firmly in the driving seat and had many chances to put the game to bed, but some resolute defending and great goalkeeping kept the deficit to one. Pompey refused to throw the towel in and in the closing exchanges the Hammers defended well, but Pompey never really properly tested Robert Green. As Pompey pushed forward in the dying seconds, West Ham did get their second when Kovac beat Begovic with a bullet of a header. It was a less than mediocre performance from Pompey who failed to get the points when they needed them most.
Pompey's final match of a miserable 2009 was a home game against Arsenal, who were still major title contenders, and it showed. Other than an early half chance for Kevin Prince Boateng, Arsenal ran the show. Their first goal had a stroke of luck about it when an Eduardo free-kick took a huge deflection off the wall and beat both Begovic and a static Hreidarsson on the line. Samir Nasri got the second a few minutes before half time after The Gunners were given far too much time and space in the box. The game was put out of reach with 20 minutes to go when young Aaron Ramsey scored a spectacular solo goal which even had some of the home crowd on their feet applauding. Pompey were given a brief glimmer of hope when Belhadj knocked the ball home from 14 yards, but it was Arsenal who ended the goal scoring when Song steered a header past Begovic.
So many negative words were thrown around that described Portsmouth's year perfectly. But the big news before the Arsenal game was that Pompey had been served with a winding-up order by HMRC. This was a big problem that wasn't going to go away. Furthermore, the transfer window was about to open, Pompey had at least 4 players going to the African Cup of Nations, more wages needed paying and we were still bottom of the table. Happy New Year indeed.
SEASON REVIEW: Pre-Season - here.
SEASON REVIEW: August.
SEASON REVIEW: September.
SEASON REVIEW: October.
SEASON REVIEW: November.