The FA Cup final aside, last season was an unmitigated disaster for Portsmouth. A combination of sub-par league performances and crippling financial insolvency saw the 2008 FA Cup winners comfortably relegated from the Premier League, the nine point deduction they received in the process little more than an irrelevance.
An exodus of personnel predictably followed, manager Avram Grant following several high-profile players out of the door. Unsurprisingly, Steve Cotterill’s beleaguered charges, of which there were just fifteen, were defeated in their first league fixture, as they were to be in four of their next six games.
With both morale and performance levels low, a 6-1 demolition of fellow strugglers Leicester was as shocking as it was decisive. This, however, was no bolt from the blue: victory over Bristol City followed, before a late Liam Lawrence penalty rescued a point against pre-season promotion favourites Middlesbrough. Lawrence, himself, is arguably the catalyst for this dramatic change in fortune. The Republic of Ireland winger was a big part of the Sunderland side that achieved promotion in 2005, before being named Stoke’s player of the season as they finished second in 2008.
He and Dave Kitson, another signing from Stoke, have notched six goals between them since their respective arrivals at Fratton Park. Portsmouth may have had to sacrifice the defensive steel of Marc Wilson to land Kitson and Lawrence, but the evident creativity of the two attackers – and the additional £3 million fee – more than offset this loss.
If John Utaka and David Nugent can find the form that persuaded Harry Redknapp to part with such exorbitant sums of money – and thus justify the exorbitance of their fees – then Portsmouth have an extremely potent front four. The steel of Michael Brown and Hayden Mullins – seasoned Premier League players themselves – provides a solid midfield balance, while the centre backs Aaron Mokoena and Ricardo Rocha have both represented their country.
The squad may be sparse, but the players Portsmouth do have are certainly good enough, according to Lawrence at least, to mount a push for the play-offs. With the threat of liquidation averted and their talented individuals finding form, Portsmouth fans have the first signs of encouragement that their side are finally halting the downward spiral and achieving something the club has lacked for nearly two years: stability.