Portsmouth - the season preview

Last updated : 15 August 2003 By Alex Dale
Just after the Second World War, Portsmouth were one of the big guns in English football. In 1949, Pompey won the league, a feat repeated the following year. A decade later, however, Pompey dropped out after a few years of struggle and never recovered, dropping to the 4th division for the first time in their history in 1978. Alan Ball lead Pompey back up in 1987, but the team were ill-prepared and went straight back down. Largely the dawn of the Premiership era has overseen some desperate last day escapes from the clutches of Division Two - namely v Huddersfield in 1996, Braford in '98, and Barnsley in 2001. How would've thought then that we'd storm to the title only two years later?

And not only that, but Portsmouth have a very real chance of survival among the sharks of the Premiership. The first bonus was that Milan Mandaric agreed to stay on as chairman - and then financed a range of transfers for Harry Redknapp to create almost a brand new team.

Shaka Hislop was given stiff competition with the signing of Hareld Wapennar from Utercht - the keeper made his debut at Exeter and has put in some strong performances - Hislop may find it hard to reclaim his place if Wapennar starts the season well.

Serbia-Montenegro defender Dejan Stefanovic - the former Sheffield Wednesday star - signed from Vitesse Arnhem in order to shore up the defense. Boris Zikovic - part of the Bayern Leverkusen side who reached the Champions League final and travelled in Japan-Korea in 2002- signed on a free, and Redknapp swooped to capture Sebastien Schmell from his old side West Ham.

The midfield was hit by the defection of Paul Merson to Walsall - but Amdy Faye, The Senegalese midfield star coverted by half the Premiership - joined for a fee belived to be £1.5 million to fill the gap. He looked sluggish against Feyenoord, but given time to settle could be a major threat. And, when Portsmouth were losing at home to Crystal Palace just two short years ago in a result which nearly condemmed Pompey to derbys at Bourneouth and Brighton - who would've thought that 2003 would see the signing of Czech star Patrik Berger?

The attack was on fire last season - the main problem was actually retaining it! Yakubu and Pericard both signed after successful loan spells - and credit must go to all informed in pulling this off. Teddy Sheringham will add the proven quality to give our young forwards the chances they need. Top scorer Svetislav Todorov may miss the entire season, which is a blow, but the strikeforce is probably the single strongest aspect at Pompey.

And lets not forget the players who got us to the dance - Linvoy Primus and Arjan de Zeeuw deserve a decent stab at the top flight, and despite being unfashionable players have every chance of succeeding. While Steve Stone and Tim Sherwood will relish the chance of returning to the elite. And we've held on to Matt Taylor, who is quite some asset to own.

How will Portsmouth fare? The main problems may be a lack of creativity in midfield and a naivity - particularly among the younger players - which plagues most teams promoted from Division One. Portsmouth would do well to remember that Nottingham Forest and Bolton both stormed the league but plummeted straight back down - but there is enough about Portsmouth to suggest this definately should not be the case. Portsmouth have added to the squad and crucially, only Merson, Festa and Crowe could be described as real losses - and have the strength in depth to avoid being in serious relegation peril. But it's staying in it for that cruical first season which counts - ask any Birmingham fan if their bottom half finish last season depresses them - and there are enough teams in this league that are poorer than Pompey. A settled start against some of the less glamourous Premiership teams - Aston Villa, Man City and Wolves - should settle the nerves of the team.

Prediction: Around 11th-15th. A satisfactory first season back in the top flight for the Blues.