2000s: A BRIGHT NEW ERA
In the dark hours of recent years, Pompey fans had dreamed of a knight in shining armour coming along with money and a desire for the club, in fact they would have taken just the former attribute alone. But Milan Mandaric had both in abundance and he had been bowled over by the support of the Pompey fans in the face of adversity. As he spoke about his determination for Premier League football and a state of the art stadium it was difficult not to pinch oneself given the storm-clouds that had so recently enveloped Fratton Park. And suddenly Alan Ball had more money at his disposal than he had had at any other time in both his spells at the club. The only way now was up and how appropriate that it had all come so right as we entered the new Millennium.
Things began in this bright new era much the way the script had been written. Ball had brought in well-known domestic imports such as Jason Cundy and Rory Allen, part of the Allen footballing dynasty. The former Spurs striker cost £1m, which was pure fantasy given the state of the club just a few months earlier. Steve Claridge, who had endured a reckless time since his transfer to Wolves, was also back at Fratton Park to heighten the feel good factor. Though the Chairman would have been far from amused that his first ever game experience ended in a comprehensive 3-0 pre-season defeat at Dorchester, surely this was merely a brushing off of the cobwebs, although the manner of defeat had been slightly alarming even at that early stage.
However, on a sunny August day Pompey opened the season proper with a 2-0 win over Sheffield United and Rory Allen opened his goal-scoring account in a creditable 1-1 draw at Wolves the following week. Another 2-0 home win against Stockport followed and a 3-0 aggregate win over Torquay in the League Cup was successfully negotiated. Then it all began to unravel before the very eyes. Pompey went down 6-0 at Barnsley, but with Andy Awford and Fitzroy Simpson both sent off early in the first half you could be forgiven for brushing this away as a freak result. However, after winning only one more game in the next five, which included a 6-1 aggregate loss against Blackburn in the League Cup, Pompey were again trounced 4-0 at Crystal Palace. Only two more wins would materialise before Christmas and prior to this, Pompey's Chairman of barely six months showed his first streak of ruthlessness and impatience by firing Ball after a run that saw the side take just 1 point from 8 games.
One of Milan Mandaric's closest advisors when coming to Pompey had been former Arsenal defender Bob McNab who, along with Kevin Bond, took charge of the impending FA Cup tie against Premier League Sunderland. Ball's departure had been sad but not unexpected given the run the side had endured. It seemed this time around that the little man had been at his best with a siege mentality of saving the club on a shoestring from the impossible, which he had admirably achieved. But now given the task of these heightened ambitions with cash attached, he had failed to live up to the challenge.
In January 2000 it was not quite the bright beginning to the century that Milan Mandaric had right to expect and the one which most disbelieving fans had braced themselves for. Tony Pulis, a manager who had achieved relative success with Gillingham, coming within a few minutes of taking the unfashionable Kent side to the old First Division, was named as Ball's successor. Pulis had a massive fall-out with Gills owner Paul Scally which had escalated into legal proceedings and his spell as manager of Bristol City had hardly set the West Country alight. If anything, the former Bristol Rovers player was renowned for long-ball tactics, but after an indifferent start, he led Pompey on a run which saw them beaten just once in ten games. Pulis brought in such extras as experienced former Spurs defender Justin Edinburgh, and 'keeper Russell Hoult, along with the likes of winger Kevin Harper and midfield hard man Shaun Derry. The run was never going to put Pompey in touch with promotion, but it did avert an even worse fear to this new beginning, that of relegation.
Amidst this period there were also off the field changes. David Deacon, who had been instrumental in attracting Milan Mandaric to the club, had become his first Chief Executive, but along with things not going how the Serbian anticipated on the field, they were also not progressing as he would have liked off of it. The new owner was fiercely pro-active on the supporter front and for the first time in decades the fans had a man who came along to their meetings and who endeared himself to them on the public relation front. Deacon stepped to one side to concentrate more on the issue of the stadium rebuilding project which was gathering pace and Barrie Pierpoint, a man well known in football circles from his time at Leicester City, was brought in to re-generate and build the club off the field.
But things were not about to get better before they got substantially worse. Pulis acquired another expensive striker in journeyman Lee Mills who cost another £1m, but missed out on several others including Jason Roberts, a highly promising striker with Bristol Rovers. The acquisition of Rory Allen was proving even more costly when, after fracturing one leg and missing most of the previous season, he then injured the other in a defeat at Sheffield United. By the beginning of October Pompey had won just twice and the Chairman had gone to the length of reimbursing the travel fare of fans who had travelled to Blackburn in the League Cup and watched them hammered 4-0, so disgusted was he with the result. The relationship between manager and Chairman had suffered as a result of the poor on the pitch results and performances and following a 1-1 draw at Stockport, the axe came down again as Milan Mandaric displayed his determination to put the club on the right road.
Again the dismissal was less than controversial. Though Pulis had engineered that spring run which pulled the club away from a relegation fight, his tactics and demeanour were not conducive to popularity and his lack of results in the first half of the season had proved the final count against him.
As an instant replacement Pompey decided to go with a popular but untried commodity, installing Steve Claridge as a temporary player/manager. In truth, the jury remained out on the appointment of someone who obviously loved and had passion for the club, but on the other hand had no managerial experience. However, a perfect nine points out of nine start, including coming back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Crystal Palace, was all the convincing that the sceptical needed and the club went on a seven match unbeaten run which banished all the doubts. But nothing is easy at Pompey. When the run finally came to an end with defeat at Fulham, a downward spiral in complete reverse to the upward one began. Just two wins in the next 15 games, alongside a home defeat to Tranmere in the 3rd round of the FA Cup saw Pompey hurtling down towards relegation bother again and in March 2001 the Chairman made the first unpopular decision of his tenure as he replaced Claridge with former Arsenal winger and successful Chelsea coach Graham Rix.
In the scheme of things Claridge's run had been wretched and in some quarters, just like a few before, he had seemed to lose the players. But he had created himself an heroic status at Fratton Park, although whether it would have been so shining had the club been relegated we will never know. Replacing him with an equally untried manager, despite his glowing coaching references, seemed a gamble and Rix carried extra baggage by virtue of having served a prison sentence.
Claridge's last match in charge was a 2-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion where he was already aware of his fate. He brought himself on late in that game, but his body language the whole afternoon, be it in dugout or on pitch, was that of a soul whose love affair and time with the club had come to an end. Pompey and Milan Mandaric very much wanted him to continue playing, but it was something that Claridge felt he could not do. The club insisted that the appointment had only ever been a temporary one to give them more time with which to find a replacement for Pulis, but he did not see it that way and his departure was hardly the most convivial.
This was the first really tough test of the Milan Mandaric era. Off the field Barrie Pierpoint had also departed after just over 6 months at the helm with local businessman Martin Murphy becoming the next Chief Executive. To make things a little more tense, Rix's results were hardly convincing though he did have only around fourteen games to make a marked difference. Perhaps the most catastrophic night came in the second to last match of the season. A win over Crystal Palace at Fratton Park, lurking below Pompey in the relegation area, would have been enough to see off the fear for another season, but the Blues were trounced 4-2 in front of disbelieving fans and the performance had 'relegation' written in capital letters all over it.
Pompey's Chairman was speechless and possibly for the first time realised the enormity of the task he had taken on. Though he had been prepared to suffer some setbacks along the way, with ninety minutes remaining the club were staring the second division firmly in the eyes and he had in no way been prepared for that.
There was a wave of emotion on the final day which was at least on home turf against a Barnsley side with nothing to play for. Thankfully it was a day where Pompey and Graham Rix were to play out another great escape. A 3-0 victory was not quite as cut and dried as it seemed, with all the goals coming in a second half spurt, but it was enough to keep Pompey just afloat, though the scare had been far too close for comfort for all concerned as celebrations on the pitch lauded a feat which Milan Mandaric had never wanted or expected to see.
The following season, though not beginning as the best, did offer some promise and one player to make a massive difference to the immediate scheme of things was Mark Burchill who signed from Celtic. The Scottish striker had scored goals aplenty on loan at Ipswich and Birmingham and he complimented beanpole striker Peter Crouch who Rix had brought from Q.P.R. for £1.5m. There were also promising youngsters from the manager's old club Chelsea in Courtney Pitt and Neil Barrett. Neither had made the grade at the London club but Division One offered promising youngsters a chance to kick start their careers.
Burchill signed with the season already underway and came off the bench for his debut at Stockport in a 1-0 victory. That kick started the season and his direct running for 20 minutes that afternoon had an immediate impact. Two days later in a Bank Holiday clash against Grimsby, Pompey again ran out 4-2 winners with Burchill scoring twice and already forming a telepathic understanding with Crouch.
The still summer days of August were all the more brighter for the promise as Pompey went on an unbeaten run. It almost seemed too good to last and it was. In a training session the day before a September clash at Coventry a freak clash saw Burchill go down and instantly his season was over before it had barely began with damaged ligaments. The result at Coventry was a 2-0 loss, the first in several games, and crowd trouble amongst Pompey fans at the game dominated the press. Suddenly those summer days of hope seemed a distant memory and so they proved.
Pompey hurtled down the table and perhaps their darkest hour in what was a dark season came with a crushing 4-1 home defeat in the FA Cup against 3rd division Leyton Orient who laid one off the bottom of the basement division. That heralded an all time low and the next day Rix's assistant Jim Duffy departed Fratton Park, but for the time being the manager stayed intact.
The previous summer had also seen a significant off-field signing. Former West Ham boss Harry Redknapp had joined the club as Director of Football and in February there was another Chief Executive change. Local businessman Martin Murphy left the club after 12 months to be replaced by the vastly experienced Peter Storrie who had served the same role at West Ham for ten years.
Pompey's continuing desperate results continued into spring and in March 2002 Rix finally paid the price as once more the club flirted with relegation. Redknapp was immediately installed as manager and quickly tried to strengthen the team bringing in defender Eddie Howe from Bournemouth and striker Svetoslav Todorov from his old club West Ham, though one not entirely popular decision that had to be made was the sale of Peter Crouch to Aston Villa. However, given the fee of close to £5m it was an offer that the club really could not turn down. With games fast running out Redknapp managed to steer Pompey away from the danger zone with games to spare and his next challenge was to do what several had failed to do for Milan Mandaric who was now entering his fourth season at the club with little else to show apart from successive relegation battles, despite ploughing millions in. Little did anyone know with hindsight how dramatic season 2002/03 would turn out to be.
Paul Merson was a player in the twilight of his career, but in his heyday as an Arsenal and England midfield player, he had been one of the best. And despite his aging years and a host of off field problems he was still a big name in football, but more importantly, unlike a lot of the stars past their sell by date who had winged their way to Fratton Park as a convenient pre-retirement home, this one still had ambition and a point to prove. Given the well-documented personal battles Merson had endured, he needed football just as much as it needed him. Having latterly played for Middlesbrough and Aston Villa he did not disappoint in what was to be a phenomenal season that nobody could have predicted prior to it kicking off.
Another popular addition was Jim Smith who had written himself into Fratton Park legend over a decade earlier. He joined as Redknapp's assistant. Ironic since it was ten years since Redknapp as assistant boss at West Ham, beat Smith's Pompey to the Premier League on goal difference.
Good standard players were brought in around Merson. Shaka Hislop, Hayden Foxe, Arjan de Zeeuw, Gianluca Festa, Steve Stone, Matthew Taylor, Vincent Pericard and former apprentice Deon Burton came back on loan. Taylor was a young and exciting prospect from Luton and Pericard the same from Juventus. The others had a high degree of experience in top level football.
A 2-0 home win over Nottingham Forest, followed by a 1-1 draw at Sheffield United set the tone to whet the appetite against what were other fancied teams, but it was probably a 3-2 win at Crystal Palace which made people sit up. Trailing 2-0 at half time at Selhurst Park it seemed like the old Pompey that fans had grown used to, but almost effortlessly a second half comeback, that saw them triumph from adversity, really did convince the so far unconverted.
Wins at outposts where Pompey had failed traditionally such as Grimsby, Gillingham, Rotherham and Burnley, kept the ball of hope rolling relentlessly on. It was not just the results, but some of the irresistible football the side was playing. They dropped just 1 point in the opening 9 games and when they were finally defeated in the tenth, 1-0 at Norwich, nobody was that concerned.
At Christmas Harry Redknapp's side topped the table, as they had done for most of the season, and despite a dodgy run over Christmas and beyond, they still moved towards their goal which most, brought up on years of failure and near misses, were frightened to dare to hope.
In January Pompey acquired the signing of powerful Nigerian striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni from Maccabi Haifa and he was soon showing his prowess after making his debut in a 1-1 draw at Brighton, scoring seven times and making as many with his power and physical presence in the remainder of the campiagn.
Pompey emerged from a winter sticky patch, which had seen them win just one in eight, but perhaps more importantly, only one of those was lost, and recorded wins such as Derby (h) 6-2, Millwall (a) 5-0 and Coventry (a) 4-0. The latter result in mid-March put the Blues on the brink of the unbelievable. Suddenly after a 2-1 win at Walsall, Pompey needed a win at home to Sheffield Wednesday to ensure return to the big time. Their Yorkshire opponents were deep in relegation trouble and quite frankly the party commenced. Yet this was Pompey and nothing would be done the easy way. After taking the lead, Redknapp's men were pegged back to 1-1 and with minutes remaining suddenly they were behind. The 2-1 defeat was a massive anti-climax. Though Pompey still had it all to do to throw promotion away, this result was a massive shock and the champagne was hurriedly put back on ice. Fans fed on so many near misses and failures began to doubt again.
Three days later Pompey had the chance to put it right with another home game against more lowly opposition in Burnley. Once again the match was fraught with tension. Harry Redknapp's team had one foot on the white line, but just could not get both over. Then in the 75th minute the stadium exploded in a ball of relief as Svetoslav Todorov forced home in front of the Fratton End before being mobbed by adoring fans. The former West Ham striker had not been taken to immediately by the Fratton Park faithful, but his 26 goals were evidence of a class marksman and this one, the most prized asset of them all. When the final whistle sounded, fans erupted as decades of frustration evaporated. Moments of pure undiluted joy across the pitch and in the Directors' Box Milan Mandaric, the man who had pulled the club from administration and certain death, now stood a proud man after doing what he promised, delivering the Premier League to the Pompey faithful. A 3-2 win at home to Rotherham sparked off more scenes of jubilation as the club secured the first division championship and a 5-0 win at Bradford City with a Todorov hat-trick ended a remarkable season with the style that Pompey had graced the division throughout. In doing so they had smashed or equalled almost every record to highlight just how magnificent they had been: Most wins in a season (29), most goals scored in a season (91), highest points total (98), most away goals in a season (48), most away win in a season (12), fewest defeats in a season (6), fewest defeats away in a season (3), most consecutive wins (7).
That summer Milan Mandaric's contribution to the community was recognised with the award of the 'freedom of the city'. The open bus tour that paraded Portsmouth on its snaking way to Southsea Common was besieged by throngs all along the route. This is what it all meant.
Finally it sunk in when the fixtures were released in July, pitting Pompey against Manchester United, Arsenal and the like. Also equality with old and fierce neighbours Southampton was renewed after 15 years of playing second fiddle. The one problem now was 'coming down to earth'. Such was the way the club had marched through the first division, the expectations of the fans needed to be put in check over the reality of stepping up. There were also some difficult decisions. No more so than the one to let Paul Merson move on. The midfield man had done the job that Redknapp had asked, but the Premier League was thought to be a step too far for him and he moved to Walsall. However, signings such as Teddy Sheringham and Patrik Berger revitalised the club for the challenge ahead.
But the bubble was not quite ready to burst. By virtue of kicking off the Premier League on Sky Televison, Pompey's home Premier League adventure began ahead of everyone else at home to Aston Villa. In a perfect start, goals from Sheringham and Berger opened the victory account (2-1) and the club could even celebrate being top of the Premiership for something like two hours and 5 minutes.
Then, after going to Manchester City and being deprived of a win only by an injury time goal, Pompey returned to Fratton Park where four sensational second half goals thrashed Bolton under the lights with Sheringham grabbing a hat-trick. Most had thought that the championship of the first division was as good as it got, but this was unbelievable. The victory saw them return to the top of the Premier League, this time for 24 hours. Then again robbed by a dubious penalty at Highbury Pompey played out a 1-1 draw with the mighty Arsenal. This Premier League stuff was kids play. Surely after this there was nothing to fear.
The harder you rise, the harder you fall and this wonderland cocktail that had Pompey fans in the clouds ended in abrupt style. There were still highs. A 1-0 win at home to Liverpool and the 6-1 thrashing of once mighty Leeds both at Fratton Park were results that all would not have predicted in their wildest dreams not so long since. But these amounted to glorious days and no more. Four wins in 20 games between October and March was the proof of the reality of the Premier League and twice in cup and league Southampton had beaten Pompey 2-0 and 3-0.
In the January transfer window the club had brought in the talismanic Lomana Tresor LuaLua on loan from Newcastle and Ivica Mornar, an imposing striker from Anderlecht. Both were to score in their first away game, a 4-3 defeat at Tottenham, but neither could arrest the general trend of results. After the massive party atmosphere, the hangover of reality had taken over with danger of an immediate return. After 1-0 and 3-0 defeats on Merseyside at Everton and Liverpool within four days, the writing seemed on the wall. It needed something dramatic, but given the previous two years, nobody was discounting it. They were proved right.
In late March a Yakubu strike finally ended more years of frustration as Pompey recorded a 1-0 win at Fratton Park against Southampton. It was a win greeted with hysteria, but apart from the local significance nobody quite realised what it had set off. It was the first league win for two months, but that was quickly followed by the first away win of the season, at Blackburn. A 1-1 draw at Charlton was added to 48 hours later with a 3-1 win over Birmingham and then unbelievably, five days later, Manchester United came to town and left with tails between legs as Steve Stone grabbed a winner. Next, a 2-1 win at relegation rivals Leeds virtually assured Pompey of survival in their first season of Premier League football having taken 16 points in six games, championship form, not relegation.
The season ended in some style. Pompey, already assured of safety, came so close to ending Arsenal's unbeaten season in a 1-1 draw and on the final day of the season a Yakubu inspired Pompey thrashed Middlesbrough 5-1 with the Nigerian striker bagging 4. Pompey's late run had inspired one from Yakubu himself. After struggling for goals all season he had suddenly started firing them in for fun, scoring ten in nine games. One slight worry as the season ended on a high note was a public falling out between Chairman Milan Mandaric and Harry Redknapp over the future of the club, but before the final game against Middlesbrough they had issued a statement and sat together during the game, so the club's first dipped toe into football's toughest league ended with all smiles and much merriment.
The second season in Premier League football was to prove tougher than the first as Pompey attempted to establish themselves. Now no longer amongst the new boys tipped to go straight back down the level of expectation was that much higher as the club looked to move onwards and upwards. A desire no more greatly felt than by Milan Mandaric who was now masterminding the growth of the club off the field as he looked towards building a new state of the art stadium and establishing Pompey as a true Premier League force.
Though the beginning of the season was not quite as remarkable or to hit the heights of the first, it was solid enough. Home wins against Fulham, Tottenham, and for the second time in six months, Manchester United. Beating them once was good enough, but goals by new defensive acquisition David Unsworth and Yakubu defeated Alex Ferguson's side once more as they returned north goalless and pointless. However, the Jekyll and Hyde of the side was displayed the following week when Redknapp's men were defeated 3-0 at Aston Villa in a performance that was as bad as the previous week's was good.
Off the field drama was about to occur. Chairman Milan Mandaric's plans to build the structure of the club involved former Yugoslav international captain Velimir Zajec who had been in a similar role at Panithanaikos. The Chairman wanted a football figure to oversee the playing structure of the club, right down to the youth side, but they were plans that did not sit easy with Harry Redknapp who saw it as a threat to his authority, though the club tried to make it abundantly clear that this was not the case and that Zajec's appointment signified the growth of the football club in line with the structure of all Premier League sides. In November 2004 Redknapp dramatically resigned, citing personal reasons and the need to get away from football. Jim Smith went with Redknapp and coach Kevin Bond would also eventually follow. What happened next stunned most in the football world, but made great headlines in the national press. Harry Redknapp was appointed manager of Southampton, Smith and Bond followed him there. Pompey's neighbourly rivals were in the relegation battle alongside them and if this was not intriguing enough, over the next 12 moths a plot which most would have been hard pressed to dream up was to unfold.
Back at Fratton Park there was no other option than for the newly appointed Zajec to take control on a temporary basis. He had come in to oversee the football operations and had found himself in the hot seat. He stressed that he was: "a soldier of the club" and for 4 months, carried out the duties and kept the club afloat. His first match in charge saw Pompey beat Bolton 1-0 away which was quickly followed by a 3-2 home win over West Brom. A 1-0 away victory at Crystal Palace on Boxing Day seemed to suggest that the temporary manager, who was no lover of the intense limelight every Premier League boss faces, had the touch to steer the club into calmer waters. The win at Selhurst Park took Pompey to 26 points, but for some reason the foot came off the pedal and the side embarked on a wretched run.
It was almost destined that the intrigue would continue. Pompey were drawn at Southampton in the FA Cup 4th round, which would have been a spicy enough encounter, without all the extras. The January transfer window saw the arrival of Greek players Kostas Chalkias (goalkeeper) and Giannis Skopelitis (midfield) on the eve of the big cup tie. To rub salt into the wounds, Southampton won by a last minute penalty, highly dubious in nature, which former Blues striker Peter Crouch banged away. Little did Pompey fans, or anyone connected with the club realise how, in three months time, this bitter feeling would turn full circle in the most dramatic way believable.
Though in the immediate aftermath of the cup defeat Pompey defeated Middlesbrough to reach 30 points, by February the wretched run continued. The Greek reinforcements had struggled to make an impact, and the 'keeper in particular had a miserable time in the few games he played. A 3-1 defeat at relegation rivals Fulham in April made the drop a distinct possibility once more and Milan Mandaric felt the time was right to replace his temporary man Zajec who had given his all, but was in danger of presiding over a team on the drop.
Alain Perrin, a Frenchman highly regarded in his own country, but little known this side of the channel, was brought in. Perrin had overseen the French equivalent of a 'Wimbledon' by taking the unfashionable Troyes from non-league all the way to the top division in France. The British press remained unimpressed, but in his first match in charge, just 48 hours after his appointment, Pompey romped home in a 4-2 victory over Charlton at Fratton Park. An animated manager on the touchline was a joy to behold, but his best was yet to come. The following game against Redknapp's Southampton was a 'winner takes all' clash in every sense. The former Pompey boss had failed to re-ignite the South Coast neighbours and they were desperately close to dropping through the trap door. A Pompey win would tighten the screw to throttling point. The script was almost perfectly laid out for the blue half of Hampshire. Former Pompey striker Peter Crouch injured himself in the warm up, whilst the former managerial trio of Redknapp, Smith and Bond grimaced on the bench during a resounding 4-1 victory with LuaLua taking centre stage scoring twice before leaving the field injured on 28 minutes. Also playing in the red and white stripes that day was former Fratton Park favourite Nigel Quashie who had joined his boss up the road. Beating Southampton, virtually relegating them, along with the entire managerial team which had begun the season at Fratton Park, whilst saving themselves? Who would have predicted that the previous August?
On the final day of the season Pompey lost at West Bromwich Albion to transport the Midlands side from relegation certainties at Christmas to dramatic safety. The supporters from Fratton Park, in the knowledge of safety themselves, had eyes and ears for only one outcome elsewhere. Southampton were beaten at home to Manchester United and relegated. Pompey were now indisputably the top team on the South Coast and how they revelled in the moment in which the local tables had finally turned.
Yet there was to be one more twist of this amazing tale in season 2005/06. Alain Perrin started off the season in buoyant mood having secured the services of talented, but highly temperamental French playmaker Laurent Robert from Newcastle. His other purchases had brought players from across the world and performances on a brief pre-season tour of France looked promising. One loss the club and supporters had braced themselves for for some time was that of striker Yakubu, who after months of intense speculation, had joined Middlesbrough. In all honesty the club had wanted to hold onto him, but the Nigerian striker's body language had been that of a man who had other things on his mind. Arjan de Zeeuw, the popular Dutch defender who had arrived in the club's promotion season also went to newly promoted Premier League rivals, Wigan, whilst popular figures such as Steve Stone and Patrik Berger were not offered new contracts. Shaka Hislop also left for West Ham, the club he had joined Pompey from.
On the field Pompey's season lurched once more into freefall. In the previous two seasons of Premier League survival the club had escaped with a poor away record due to their great home one, but now the home form had deserted them also with no improvement on the away. True, a 1-0 away win at Everton and a 4-1 away trouncing of Sunderland did suggest better things were on the way, but by November the club had failed to win a single home match. This included two games against Aston Villa and Birmingham who were hugely disadvantaged by playing most of the game with ten men after dismissals.
Laurent Robert was disappointing and an incident prior to the Sunderland match where he was reported to have declared himself unfit after being named as a substitute hardly ingratiated him to the Pompey faithful. Other signings, all players who played for their country, such as John Viafara, Collins Mbesuma, Dario Silva and Zvonimir Vukic failed to make significant impacts.
By the end of November the inevitable parting of the ways happened. Alain Perrin was increasingly cutting an isolated figure, consistently struggling to get his points over to the British press, for which they took no end of unfair amusement in dubbing him 'Reggie'. But this was a results business and it was this that saw his departure.
However, the tale of twelve months earlier was now to turn full circle. Pompey wanted a manager capable of digging the club out of the relegation hole which they found themselves firmly entrenched in. Neil Warnock (Sheffield United) was the favourite, but one name would not go away, that of Harry Redknapp. Following relegation with Southampton he had stayed on, but was forced to sell most of the better players from which the side never really recovered. Saints remained on the fringes of a promotion play off spot, but there was much speculation that the former Pompey boss was deeply unhappy with off the field goings on at St Mary's, including the involvement of former England rugby coach Clive Woodward, who had joined the staff that summer.
Redknapp was eventually given that popular current pastime 'gardening leave' by Southampton and finally allowed to talk to the boss who had left just over a year earlier, Pompey re-instated him in the most unlikely of football tales. Many Pompey fans gave the decision their blessing despite reservations over the way he left and where he had ended up. In polls carried out the majority considered Redknapp the best man to dig the club out of the relegation spot they occupied.
In January 2006 another major impact occurred at Fratton Park. Milan Mandaric had been the sole owner of the club since taking them out of administration. He had always said that when the time was right and when he had built the club up sufficiently that he would seek a partner. That came to fruition with the arrival of Alexandre Gaydamak, a young man that Pompey's Serbian Chairman saw his own mould in. He became the club's co-owner and the future of Portsmouth Football Club, despite the current on field results, seemed as bright as ever it had been just seven years after they had been taken out of administration.
Pompey's added wealth allowed them to bring in a flurry of players during the January transfer window and this, along with Redknapp's genius at turning 'improbable' into 'possible' would eventually propel the side to another 'great escape' in quite dramatic fashion. When Pompey lost 1-0 to Aston Villa at the beginning of March they found themselves second from bottom, six points below Birmingham and eight behind West Brom. They had been on the end of a 5-0 hiding at St Andrews some weeks before and even with the added clout of Alexandre Gaydamak and the extra nous of Harry Redknapp, the order looked tall.
If there was a turning point then the following game against Manchester City provided it. One of the new additions, Pedro Mendes, had scored a sweet goal with a volley from outside the area to put the side 1-0 up, but when the opposition equalised seven minutes from the end nobody could foresee the landmark point of Pompey's season. That was when deep into stoppage time the Portuguese man hit the target again with an even better effort to clinch the game. It is true to say the tide had turned and Pompey never looked back.
Out of the next 7 games Pompey took an amazing total of 14 points, securing wonderful victories at Fulham and West Ham, plus home wins against Middlesbrough and a dramatic last gasp home win over Sunderland. They also held Arsenal 1-1 at Fratton Park. Harry Redknapp had taken over in December with the club on 10 points and by the end of January they had just 17. However Matt Taylor's late penalty, in the 2-1 win over Sunderland presented the possibility of Pompey escaping relegation with a game to spare, an amazing prospect when you consider their position just a few short weeks previously.
And so it came to pass. Pompey's 2-1 win at Wigan, made it 20 points from 9 games and coupled with Birmingham's failure to beat Newcastle at home, it ensured they and West Bromwich Albion went down with already doomed Sunderland. Mass celebrations ensued as another legendary afternoon in Portsmouth Football Club's history was played out. One of many in a rollercoaster of highs and lows that has seen the club win the FA Cup and league championship, sink into the basement division and enter administration. The summer of 2006 saw Pompey prepare for its fourth consecutive season in the Premier League and looking at a bright future befitting of a club with such a long, rich and distinguished history.