By Chris Harris
It's been quite a turnaround at Fratton Park. This time last year Harry Redknapp was fighting for the fans' approval after his controversial dalliance with Southampton while Portsmouth themselves were fighting for their Premiership lives.
They survived, Redknapp restored his hero status and - after some canny manouevres in the transfer market - the Pompey manager has guided his team to the doorstep of European football. They need results to go their way on Sunday to book a Uefa Cup spot but, frankly, being in contention is astonishing enough.
We spoke to Jordan Cross of the Pompey News ahead of Arsenal's visit to Fratton Park. Read on to find out the story behind Portsmouth's transformation, the England veterans who made it happen, the 'unique' support on the south coast and the progress of a former Arsenal favourite.
THE STORY SO FAR
"There has big a huge improvement on last year. In the penultimate game of last season Pompey went to Wigan and things were looking bleak. Fast forward 12 months and, although the results have dropped off in recent weeks, the chance of a Uefa Cup place is still there. If Pompey beat Arsenal while Bolton and Reading fail to win, they will be in Europe. You would never have guessed that they would make that kind of progress and Harry Redknapp has been quick to stress that since things levelled off, because Pompey made a flying start and were enconsed in the top six of the Premiership early in the season. The squad has been stretched at times so they found it hard to sustain that, but it has still been an excellent campaign."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"You can put Pompey's improvement down to a couple of players in particular - David James and Sol Campbell. I've never seen a keeper in the kind of form that James has been in. He has saved so many points for Pompey, it must be way into double figures. He makes stops you would never expect him to make to secure a win here and a draw there. James has cleaned up with the club's player of the season award and he is a short-odds favourite to win our newspaper's award too. How James has not been involved with England this season is beyond me. As for Campbell, he has brought knowledge and professionalism to the side. He is likely to miss Sunday's game with an Achilles injury but he has played in virtually every game this season and his presence has brought sturdiness to the defence and brought out the best in players like Linvoy Primus. Campbell and Primus are defenders who defend first and foremost, as Harry puts it, and they have developed an excellent understanding."
"Lauren arrived in January after a year out with injury. As a result it took him a few games to find his feet and then he picked up a thigh injury. Lauren is back now and has shown he is a real quality player. He has been schooled on the English game at Arsenal and you can see that. There is a high level of professionalism with Lauren, he does things properly and I think he will be a big player for Pompey next season. He is so versatile too. Harry played him on the right of midfield but he could return to right back when Glen Johnson goes back to Chelsea after his loan spell."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"Next year will be their fifth in the Premiership and, as always, the first target is 40 points. But if Pompey can continue the progress they have made they can become an established Premiership club. We would love that and we would love European football here too. The atmosphere at Fratton Park is a big plus. Portsmouth is a city with one club, it's a working-class city and the fans love their football. The support at Fratton Park stems back to the 1990s when the fans rallied round and cheered them on to safety when the club was on the verge of administration. Alan Ball, who first got their promoted to the top flight, came back and saved them. The fans made a decision to get right behind the team, regardless of how they were doing. The great support you see at Fratton Park is borne of supporting the team through those dark days."
"Pedro Mendes is back in contention for the first time since he picked up an ankle injury in February. The same goes for Todorov, although he is likely to be on the bench at best. Matt Taylor (ankle) and Richard Hughes (knee) are 50:50. Campbell is likely to miss the game but the other former Arsenal players, Kanu and Lauren, are available."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Pompey drew 2-2 at Arsenal in December but, actually, I missed Matt Taylor's wondergoal because I was getting stuck into the ice cream in the press room! The thing I like most about Emirates Stadium is that a lot of stadiums are identikit venues just off a motorway or a ring road, but Arsenal's ground has something about it, a sense of history which sets it apart from others. Pompey need to take that on board when they move ground themselves."
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