The much anticipated start of Portsmouth's first season in the Championship got going with a trip to the Ricoh Arena to take on a Coventry side who were preparing for their 10th season in the second tier. Many fans looked forward to the new trials and tribulations that this league would throw at us, including more open football, perhaps more entertaining matches and a welcome return to regular midweek matches under the lights.
Portsmouth's starting XI only included one player who wasn't in the squad the season previous, that being Sonko who had moved on loan from Stoke, with a bench of 4 from 7. As 3 o'clock struck the match got underway and we were back in action. 3 minutes later, it was 1-0 to Coventry.
Freddy Eastwood was the hero for Coventry, scoring both goals in their comfortable 2-0 win, and for Portsmouth, this match showed that our return to the Championship wasn't going to be a stroll in the park. The team moved the ball well but lacked any creativity and a cutting edge. With the exception of a late free kick from Marc Wilson, which was kept out by the frame of the goal, Pompey rarely threatened. This was a wake up call; the team needed sorting before it was too late.
Another 'perk' of playing in the Championship is joining the Carling Cup for the first round, and this year we had been drawn away to League 2's Stevenage. As with our last cup game, this match was also televised, although Broadhill Way seemed a long way from Wembley. However, the 7,000 or so in attendance made much more noise that the 60,000 or so Chelsea and Spurs fans combined at the arch, which made for a fantastic atmosphere.
Portsmouth looked shaky in the early stages, as opposed to the 'Boro who looked up for the challenge. But it was the visitors who took the lead, with Nadir Ciftci opening his Pompey account with a glancing header from a Matt Richie cross. This lead was eradicated soon after when a speculative strike from Darren Murphy clipped Joel Ward and bobbled past Ashdown. Ward redeemed himself before half-time with a perfect cross which Michael Brown converted with a diving header. Portsmouth saw out the second half comfortably, much to the disappointment of the television crews, who undoubtedly anticipated an upset.
The opening game at Fratton Park oversaw the visit of Reading, with all the talk about the last time these sides met at Fratton, and the 11 goals shared between the teams. With barely 10 minutes on the clock, they were at it again, with Nadir Ciftci scoring his second goal in two games, squirming the ball under Federici. Minutes after the goal, John Utaka who was looking threatening coming forward had to be replaced by Ward after an injury, which dented Portsmouth's confidence. Nugent, Richie and Ciftci all had chances to put the game to bed, but the goals were not flowing as freely as history suggested. In fact, the game remained 1-0 until the 94th minute, when predictably the Blues capitulated, and Jimmy Kebe poked the ball home after a scramble to claim a point for the visitors.
Things weren't to get any better for Portsmouth on their visit to Deepdale, despite bolstering their squad with another loan signing, again from Stoke, this time in the shape of 24 year old left back Carl Dickinson. Pompey conceded early again, with Paul Hayes scoring for Preston in a match where the visitors never really got going. It could, and perhaps should have been more for the Lilywhites, but 1-0 proved to be enough to keep off a toothless Portsmouth side who were slipping into old habits.
Back to the Carling Cup, and Crystal Palace came to Fratton Park in what was a highly entertaining match. Edgar Davids made his debut for Palace, and was about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Portsmouth played some attractive football, and just before the hour mark they took the lead with Nugent's first goal in 18 months for Portsmouth. Once again though, the hosts allowed the pressure to build and with 10 minutes remaining, Ibrahima Sonko sliced the ball into his own net from 6 yards out, ensuring another 30 minutes would be played at a frantic pace.
Wilfried Zaha saw red for the visitors early in extra-time after an altercation with Dickinson, but Pompey failed to capitalise and Fratton Park was to witness penalties for the first time in history. Ashdown got Pompey off to a flier, saving one and seeing another fly over, Brown also saw his penalty saved but still meant Ciftci had a chance to win it. He sent the goalkeeper the wrong way but struck the foot of the post, which sent the shootout to sudden death. Ashdown saved once again from Clyne, but Dickinson twice saw his kick saved after the keeper strayed of his line. Ashdown again saved from Barrett, and this time Richard Hughes made no mistake and sent Portsmouth to the 3rd round after a fantastic game of football.
With a home tie against Leicester waiting in the next round, Pompey looked to get their first win in the league against promotion chasing Cardiff at Fratton Park. John Utaka returned to the team and looked dangerous early on as Wilson and Sonko both came close to giving Pompey the lead. But the tide turned just before the end of the first half, when Hayden Mullins agonisingly diverted a through ball past Ashdown and into his own net. Portsmouth's woes were doubled shortly after half time, when Jay Bothroyd, soon to be made an England International, profited after a mix up between Ashdown and Sonko, giving the Bluebirds an unassailable lead.
August saw Portsmouth play six games, winning both cup-ties, but mustering up just one point from a possible twelve in the league, which saw the team find themselves bottom of the Championship. New league, same old story. With the transfer market closing, Portsmouth needed to do some business or else find themselves cast adrift by Christmas.Pre-Season Review - hereWritten by PompeyFrippy
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