SEASON REVIEW: March
March arrived and the only march that Pompey had in mind was one that would take them to the famous arch of Wembley. Only 90 minutes against Birmingham stood in between Pompey and Wembley, and Fratton Park was as full as it had been all season and the atmosphere was pulsating. It was a tense affair and it was the Brummies who were thwarted several times in the opening exchanges by an in-form David James. O'Hara was once again looking dangerous and he twice gave Piquionne something to run onto, but Joe Hart was equal to his efforts. Utaka also had chances either side of the break, his first he blazed well over, and the second was well smothered by Hart. The match was balanced delicately on a knife edge and something had to give, and halfway through the second half it happened. After a mighty scramble, Piquionne was on hand to tap in from close range to send Fratton Park into hysterics. The celebrations had only just died down when O'Hara threaded a ball to Piquionne, who twisted and turned the defence inside out, before picking his spot and sending the home fans into delirium. The finish would have been a much nervier affair had Ridgewell's header been adjudged to have crossed the line, but it was not given, despite the TV commentators all agreeing it was well past the line (although in my opinion, I don't think the whole of the ball was past the whole of the line). The final whistle was welcomed by huge cheers and tears, after a season of consistent disappointments, Pompey were now heading back to Wembley for the 4th time in 2 years, and this one was going to be the most special of all.
Oddly enough, Pompey had to play Birmingham once again just 3 days later in the league, and with Pompey still awaiting conformation of their 9 point deduction, there wasn't as much to play for this time around. Despite only making 1 change to their squad, Pompey found themselves 2-0 down by the break, with Cameron Jerome netting both times. The Hampshire Blues had plenty of chances and didn't deserve to be behind, and matters were made worse by the referee, who failed to give a penalty after a clear handball by Roger Johnson. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie came on at the break and looked as dangerous as ever, and once again the referee denied the hosts another spot kick, this time with the ball cannoning off Craig Gardener's arm. The game started to fade in the last quarter and despite a very late consolation from Kanu, it was the visitors who came away with the spoils.
Anfield was the venue for Pompey's next match, with the Red's looking to redeem themselves after losing at Fratton Park earlier in the season, and despite a good opening from the visitors, they were stung by 3 goals in quick succession. Jamie Ashdown saw his clearance blocked and Liverpool moved the ball to Torres who made no mistake in front of goal. The same player set up Babel who doubled the lead within a minute and Torres also claimed an assist for the third, this time converted by Aquilani. Pompey rarely threatened, and when they did, Michael Brown's effort was saved easily by Pepe Reina. Torres got his second towards the end with a fine strike before Belhadj pulled one back in the last minute. The match was not without controversy once again, and following tradition, Liverpool got away with a huge decision, after replays showed Gerrard intentionally elbowed Brown in the back on the head in an off the ball incident.
The Premier League finally got around to docking 9 points from Portsmouth leaving them 14 points off safety with 8 games to play before the visit of Hull, but there was still pride to play for, even more so as it was Iain Dowie's first game in charge of the Tigers, and he received the usual scummer treatment. It was a very eventful game, and just minutes after hitting the post, Hull took the lead when Caleb Folan saw his shot take a huge deflection off Wilson and past David James. It was an open game which saw plenty opportunities for both sides, and Smith equalised with his first Pompey goal after a scramble from a corner. The match stayed level until late in the second half when Folan restored Hull's lead and looked to earn the visitors all 3 points. However, Pompey's never say die attitude was on show for all to see and with just 2 minutes remaining, O'Hara curled a wicked free-kick into the top corner to make it 2-2. Less than 40 seconds after the restart Pompey had turned the game on it's head when Belhadj raced down the left and sent in a perfect cross for Kanu to tap home the winner. It was a great end for Pompey, whose fans fully deserved to celebrate the win, however meaningless the points seemed.
Even though Pompey were rooted to the foot of the table having only won 6 out of 30 so far in the league, Portsmouth were very rarely outplayed at any time. That same can't be said after Chelsea's visit to Fortress Fratton. The hosts barely threatened in the 90 minutes and even though Chelsea needed a huge slice of luck to take the lead, it was always on the cards. A ball back to David James hit a divot and left the England keeper with egg on his face as he kicked fresh air and left Drogba with the simple task of slotting home. This was the only goal of the first half, but there were definitely other talking points. Florent Malouda floored Ricardo Rocha with an elbow and a fractured cheekbone was the result. This went unpunished. Just minutes later Tommy Smith suffered a suspected broken nose after an elbow from Daniel Sturridge. This also went unpunished. So when the second half began, it was 11 v 11, not 11 v 9 as most thought it should of been. Somewhat cruelly it was Florent Malouda who scored Chelsea's second and third goals. Drogba finished well from Mikel's long ball and was then on hand to tee up Lampard to make it 5-0 to Chelsea.
Pompey's final game of March saw them take on their Wembley opponents at White Hart Lane. With all the ex-Pompey connections, it would have been easy to see this as a big match between rivals, but to be honest, there was hardly any interest in this one, the visiting fans (and seemingly the players) seemed to be saving themselves for the FA Cup Semi-Final. There's no two ways about this one, the home side dominated the match and the 2-0 final score was flattering for Pompey. The goals predictably enough came from two players who were playing at Fratton Park last season. Crouch opened the scoring nodding home from Bale's cross and Kranjcar doubled the lead before half time after Modric's shot fell into his path. Maybe Uncle Avram had alternative thoughts going into this match, leading Spurs into a false sense of security with the Semi-Final just around the corner?
Before the end of the month, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie had his loan terminated, and Antti Niemi saw his contract terminated. In addition to this, Dusko Tosic was loaned to QPR for the rest of the season. Staggeringly, this meant a total of 55 players had come and gone from Pompey since the start of June, with 18 coming in and 37 going out. A statistic that speaks volumes about our season.
SEASON REVIEW: Pre-Season - here.
SEASON REVIEW: August.
SEASON REVIEW: September.
SEASON REVIEW: October.
SEASON REVIEW: November.
SEASON REVIEW: December.
SEASON REVIEW: January.
SEASON REVIEW: February.