Portsmouth slide down South Coast hierarchy
Bournemouth 2 Portsmouth 0
Anyone who correctly forecast in the summer of 2008 where these two clubs would stand today would surely have been accused of overdoing it on Portsmouth's Wembley champagne. But the FA Cup holders fell like Icarus, while Bournemouth overcame a serious threat to their Football League status and are now passing Pompey on their way up.
Yesterday's win means that Eddie Howe's team have lost only once in 20 games and are a point from the top of League One. In contrast, hapless Portsmouth have lost nine in a row and are rooted in the relegation zone. That the apparently inevitable drop to League Two will make Portsmouth the lowest-placed club on the South Coast for the first time is the least of their worries.
The League last week warned that they could lose their place entirely if they do not come out of administration this season. That depends on the Pompey Supporters' Trust (PST) taking over, which in turn hinges on the decision of a court over the valuation placed on Fratton Park, their decaying home ground, by a previous owner.
The only scrap of good news – and it tends to come in crumbs these days – perhaps was that the League refused to consider a new bid for the club, fronted by Keith Harris, the League's former chairman, which would surely have delayed any possible resolution.
Two administrations and a series of foreign "benefactors" since the FA Cup win triggered bonuses in player contracts they could not afford, Portsmouth owe £60 million, meaning the trust are now their only possible financial and moral salvation.
Players and staff have deserted the sinking ship – the 2013 club calendar was redundant before the end of January, with almost all its featured players gone, leaving Guy Whittingham, the caretaker manager with a side composed mainly of loan signings on monthly contracts. Three more made their debuts yesterday, bringing to 51 the total of players used this season.
Yesterday's opponents, though, could be their inspiration. They were in administration twice before Howe, then the youngest professional manager, led them to League Two safety in 2009 despite a 17-point deduction, and promotion the following year despite a transfer embargo. Indeed, it was during an injury-plagued spell as a player at Portsmouth under Harry Redknapp that Howe claims he studied for the role.
Only Sir Alex Ferguson can beat Howe's points-per-game record since he was tempted back from Burnley in October by Eddie Mitchell, the chairman. Mitchell has also brought in Maxim Demin, a Russian who has invested £6m, as co-owner, and two other Russian directors, although he intends to keep the club, and its spending, under his control. At the moment outlay exceeds income, but Mitchell hopes promotion and higher gates will help, with yesterday's biggest crowd of the season a step in the right direction.
"Bournemouth are in some ways a role model, although I'd point to Swansea as a better one," said Colin Farmery of PST. "They have come into some wealth, but as the Pompey situation shows, you never quite know what's round the corner and, the further removed the source of finance is from the roots of the club, the more risky the strategy is. Bournemouth seem to have invested their money very wisely and have an excellent manager, but Pompey have shown what can happen if it goes wrong. You can quickly find yourself in a spiral that it is hard to get out of."
At least the 1,338 Portsmouth fans present yesterday managed to laugh at their predicament. "How s*** must you be, you still haven't scored," they chanted in the first half. Lewis Grabban put that right after 62 minutes when he cleverly found space in a crowded penalty area to shoot home before Marc Pugh slid in a deserved second.
Bournemouth (4-4-2): Jalal; Francis, Seaborne, Cook, Ritchie; McQuoid, Arter (Hughes, 82), O'Kane, Pugh; Pitman (MacDonald, 90), Grabban (Tubbs, 81).
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Eastwood; Moutaoakil, Gyepes, Rocha, Butler; Racon (Wallace, 68), Ertl, Cooper (Walker, 81), Reed; Akinde, Agyemang (Keene, 65).
Referee Andre Marriner.
Man of the match Pugh (Bournemouth).
Match rating 7/10.
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