Championship Analysis – Troubled Portsmouth sink into relegation scrap after defeat at Barnsley
Portsmouth were put into administration for the second time in three seasons during midweek and were immediately docked ten points, plunging the club from relative mid-table safety into 21st spot. After Saturday’s results, which saw Pompey beaten 2-0 at Barnsley and Nottingham Forest triumphant in their crucial clash at home to Coventry, Michael Appleton’s side are now officially in the relegation zone, and the deduction could potentially provide a lifeline for one of Forest, Doncaster and Coventry, who before the weekend had all been locked in the bottom three since the end of November.
It is believed the Football League were considering handing out a 20-point penalty due to Portsmouth’s continual financial mismanagement, so one could argue the club has been somewhat let off lightly on the pitch. Whether that is true or not, the situation at Fratton Park has become farcical, not least because Portsmouth have still been allowed to sign players on Premier League wages despite debts following on from the previous period in administration. Finances are now so thin on the ground that the club has so far been unable to raise enough cash to provide Liam Lawrence with an ankle scan after the midfielder sustained an injury during their previous fixture against Ipswich.
"In simple terms, expenditure has exceeded income in a large way predominantly due to handing out unsustainable salaries to players on long-term contracts," Administrator Trevor Birch told BBC Radio 5 Live this weekend, though added that he was quietly confident the club would survive.
"If we can restructure behind the scenes in terms of the club's debts then yes, it's a great opportunity to sell the club. There is always somebody who will come forward," he claimed when quizzed further.
Nobody wants to see a club go out of existence, but when one considers that clubs the size of Leeds, Cardiff, Crystal Palace and – also this week – Glasgow Rangers have faced not too dissimilar circumstances in recent years, it’s not surprising so many become cynical about the state of the game and its lack of control over clubs’ spiralling debts. Barnsley manager Keith Hill didn’t mince his words following his side’s win.
“I've got no sympathy whatsoever for Portsmouth, absolutely none, because they've spent money they can't afford. They've recruited players at the beginning of the season knowing full well they were still in debt from the previous administration,” he told Mail Online.
Another big club in Portsmouth’s south-coast rivals Southampton were in the same boat as recently as 2009, but have recovered spectacularly on the pitch since. With West Ham not in action due to their allocated opponents Blackpool being involved in the FA Cup, the Saints took their chance to move back to the top of the table after hammering Derby at St Mary’s.
The Hammers will regain top spot with one of their two games in hand if they win the rearranged clash at Bloomfield Road on Tuesday evening. It is a big fixture for Blackpool, too, as a win for the Tangerines would propel them into third spot – currently occupied by Reading following victory over Burnley on Friday night – and only two points below their opponents. Should they fail, Birmingham will go third with a win at Barnsley, while Middlesbrough could re-enter the top six if they beat Millwall in the other fixture.