SEASON REVIEW: April
With the arrival of April, the penultimate month in Portsmouth's season, came many mixed emotions. Relegation was a certainty, all the team could do now was stall it for as long as they could. On the bright side, Pompey were returning to Wembley to take on Tottenham, which promised to be an explosive affair.
But before big day out, Pompey had to take on Blackburn in a game which drew in Fratton Park's smallest crowd for a league game this season. A little over 16,000 turned up for a game which wouldn't have lived long in the memory. To make matters worse, Pompey couldn't name a full quota of substitutes, and of the 6 that were on the bench, 5 had never played in the Premier League before. Blackburn looked the better side and had plenty of chances to take the lead in the first half, Samba in particular coming close when his header crashed against the post. At the other end, Jamie O'Hara had thought he'd given Portsmouth the lead, only to see his goal-bound header magnificently cleared off the line by Gael Givet. The second half saw Blackburn look for a winner, and when Vanden Borre got his second yellow card for a deliberate handball, it looked like only a matter of time. But Pompey held strong for a point, thanks to some resolute defending and some fine stops from Jamie Ashdown, and fully deserved their point.
With this result, relegation would be confirmed the next time West Ham won a match, and with the Irons playing twice between now and Portsmouth's next match the writing was on the wall. When they drew 2-2 against Everton, Pompey had a 6 day stay of execution, but the Hammers victory over Sunderland on the 10th of April confirmed Portsmouth's fate. Relegated after 7 seasons in the top flight full of plenty of ups and downs, managers coming and going, owners buying and selling, and even a trophy or two (lest we forget the coveted Hong Kong Asia Trophy). This was now over, and all we had to look forward to was life in the second tier. Oh yeah, and a little cup game at Wembley.
Less than 24 hours after relegation was confirmed, 33,000 Portsmouth fans were on route to Wembley to watch their side play at the national stadium with an FA Cup final place at stake. Even though Portsmouth were 9/1 underdogs to win this match, there was an air of optimism among the South coast supporters as they marched up Wembley Way. Something about the atmosphere screamed, this is our day. But to do this, the 11 men on the pitch in blue had to perform like warriors, and that they did. Tottenham looked very dangerous coming forward and Peter Crouch nearly nodded Spurs into the lead a couple of times in the first half, but narrowly missed that target. When he did hit the target, David James was there to claw the ball to safety, as he was when Huddlestone let fly from distance. Spurs weren't having it all their own way though and the best chance of the half well to Piquionne, whose well timed run saw him 1-on-1 with Gomes, but the Frenchman fired straight at him.
The second half followed the same pattern, Spurs looking most likely to score but Pompey looking decent on the counter. Crouch nearly opened the scoring within the first minute of the second half, but found himself cussing the last ditch defending of Mokoena and Rocha, who threw themselves at anything they could all afternoon. In the final minute of stoppage time it was looking like the same old story for Portsmouth, as Bale crossed for Crouch and had only the keeper to beat, but David James spread himself expertly as the 6"7' striker struck the ball against the 39 year-old's legs and earned Portsmouth another 30 minutes of football.
After a tense opening to extra-time, the deadlock was finally broken. A long ball into the Spurs penalty area wasn't dealt with properly and as Dawson slipped, Piquionne was on hand to smash the ball low and hard past Gomes. Cue scenes of hysteria from the Pompey fans. Within a minute however, Spurs thought they had pulled level, after Peter Crouch tucked home after a mistake by David James, but the referee saw an infringement on James by Kranjcar, even if nobody else did and Portsmouth retained their lead. David James's face said it all. Spurs applied plenty of pressure through extra time but the Portsmouth defence stood solid, and unbelievably, with 5 minutes to go, a counter attack saw Dindane hauled down for a penalty which would seal the game. Boateng stepped up and lashed the ball past Gomes to send the Portsmouth fans into so much delirium it temporarily made them forget about the 8 months of torture they had gone through to get to this game.
Scenes of joy for players and fans alike at the final whistle showed just how much it meant to the club, Avram Grant had done the impossible and sent Portsmouth to their second FA Cup Final in 3 years, this achievement was 10 times more spectacular than that of two years ago. And as the dust settled, and Floppychops whined about the state of the pitch and the decisions that went against them, there was no escaping that as he sunk into his seat at the final whistle, a certain degree of closure had been achieved by the fans, and boy did it feel good.
Between the semi-final and the final, Portsmouth had to try and muster up the enthusiasm to play 5 league games, which were recognised as dead rubber fixtures now that relegation was confirmed. The first was a midweek trip to the DW Stadium to take on Wigan, and just 3 days after their incredible win against Spurs, Portsmouth made 8 changes to their side, and named only 4 subs. Amongst the changes saw Premier League debuts for Joel Ward and Matt Ritchie, the latter of which had a golden chance to twice head the visitors into the lead, but headed narrowly wide on both attempts. At half time, another débutante made his appearance for Portsmouth, Lenny Sowah, who became the first player to play in the Premiership who was born after it's inception in 1992. The second half saw few chances, and Wigan perhaps should have scored but a 0-0 was probably a fair result, and a fine point to a makeshift Portsmouth side who played some quality free flowing football.
Villa were next up for The Blues, at Fratton Park as Portsmouth continued to offer vital experience to the youth players. But it was a more experienced figure who opened the scoring when 10 minutes in, Michael Brown curled a beauty around Friedel for his first Portsmouth goal. The lead lasted just 6 minutes however as John Carew lashed the ball into the roof of the net. Portsmouth should have had a penalty before half time, as Boateng went on a mazy run and had his legs taken out by Richard Dunne, but referee Lee Probert decided that this was acceptable as it's only Portsmouth and they're used to this kind of stuff by now. He did award a penalty at the other end when Carew was felled by Bouba Diop, but David James did what he does best and kept out the Norwegian's spot kick. Villa dominated the second half and were perhaps unlucky not to win another penalty, but just as Villa seemed to run out of ideas, young Nathan Delfouneso popped up after a Heskey flick on and struck the winner with 7 minutes remaining to win all 3 points for Villa.
The final match in April was a trip to the Reebok Stadium to take on a Bolton side looking for 3 points which would ensure their survival. It was the hosts that started well, and if it wasn't for David James, the match could have been over in the first 20 minutes, pulling off some great saves from Klasnic, Cahill and two from Super Matty Taylor. But the onslaught continued and with 26 minutes gone Klasnic nodded home and this lead was doubled just a minute later when Vladimir Weiss went on a brilliant run and delivered a perfect ball for Kevin Davies who tapped home to seemingly put the game to bed. Bolton came out second half and took their foot off the gas, which allowed Portsmouth to force their way back into the game. A fine move by the Blues ended up in the back of the net when Utaka set up Dindane whose connection was not great, but the ball went in regardless. Piquionne had a chance to equalise minutes later and although his header was well kept out by Jaaskelainen, there was nothing the Bolton stopper could do about Dindane's effort minutes later. Utaka chased down what seemed like a lost cause and after some tenacious play, he teed up Dindane who tapped the ball home. Bolton pressed for a winner but to no avail, as Davies saw two headers cleared off the line and of the post respectively in injury time. It was a well earned point that showed our never say die reputation that had been bestowed upon the club.
As April ended, there was only one thing on Portsmouth's mind, and it wasn't the end of season trip to Everton, nor the final home game against Wolves. Chelsea awaited in the FA Cup Final and this was going to be a special day, but just to throw another spanner in the works, the Premier League decided that due to Portsmouth's administration and failure to apply for the Europa League, they were going to deny them access to the competition, despite rightfully earning their place there. Instead they offered it to the club who finished 7th in the league, which just so happened to be Liverpool.
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.
SEASON REVIEW: March.