The only way was up
A date to send fear and anger into every single Portsmouth fan, and indeed, a huge reason towards my strong dislike of Crystal Palace. A sellout crowd of 19,013 arrived at Fratton Park for a game against the aforementioned Eagles, knowing that any sort of win for the home team would see the visitors relegated, sparing us from any last day nerves. We'd looked safe earlier on in the season, but a dreadful collapse had seen us dragged into the mire. But now it was in our own hands to stay up, send the visitors down, and begin to plan for the next season.
Ninety dreadful minutes later, and things had only just got worse. A humiliating 4-2 defeat saw us drop into the relegation zone for the first time in the season, with Palace going above us on goal difference. Thankfully for us, our last day heroics are well documented. Throughout the nineties, through a combination of getting the right result when it mattered and a bit of luck, we've managed to keep relegation at the door. And so it went in 00/01 too; we beat Barnsley 3-0, which was enough to send us above Palace; they scored in the last minute to beat Stockport 1-0, and Huddersfield - who thought they were safe - ended up getting relegated, and in fact dropped down into Division Three the season after that.
That's just how thin the dividing line is. That was THREE years ago. If we'd beaten Palace, they would've gone into Division Two. If they hadn't scored late on at Stockport, the same would've resulted. If we had been playing a team who actually had any interest in being there, rather than a decimated Barnsley side whose minds were clearly on their holidays, it could very easily have been us who ended up facing the dreaded drop.
But football is a funny old game. The season after, ourselves and Palace floated around in midtable, although the 4-2 defeat we took the season before was avenged with a 4-2 win of our own. And what a win it was too, as Prosinecki strolled around the Fratton turf, spraying out inch perfect passes and scoring himself. The season after that, of course, we won promotion.
There are two interesting stories to come out of that season. Being 2-0 down at half time in the match at Selhurst Park, Palace's chairman Simon Jordan leant over to Milan and is rumoured to have said, "Let's see Harry earn his money now". Given how we had come back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 only two seasons before, you'd have thought he kept his mouth shut. The fact we won 3-2 again no doubt played some part in his bitterness, and indeed the second interesting story I mentioned, where he claimed at the end of the season that "Palace were just as good as Portsmouth this year, except they were lucky". Yes Simon, that's right. Knob.
So a year apart from Crystal Palace followed, but following their play-off victory now we're re-united. Indeed, we face each other this weekend - that's what this is building up to, after all - but it's funny to think what might have been. Of course, you can go through every single incident in football thinking, "What if this had happened", or "What if that had happened". But so very easily, one of us or Palace could've been relegated that week in May. And now, we both make up part of the elite teams in England, the Premiership.
Who would've thought it!