By Chris Harris
Considering what Portsmouth have been through this season, Premier League survival will be something of a feat.
Life seemed rosy down on the south coast when Harry Redknapp assembled a talented squad last summer but he left for Tottenham in October and his replacement, Tony Adams, was sacked in February. By then Pompey had lost Jermain Defoe and Lassana Diarra to big-money moves and paid with points as they slipped into a relegation dogfight.
But Paul Hart, another internal appointment, has rescued them. His style is not pretty but it has been pretty effective and Pompey have lost just twice during his 10 games in charge - and that was to Manchester United and Chelsea. One more win should be sufficient to secure a top-flight place for next season.
We spoke to Neil Allen of the Portsmouth News for the lowdown on Arsenal's next opponents ahead of Saturday's clash at Fratton Park. Read on for his take on Pompey's managerial merry-go-round, their player of the season, the long-term future of the club and the reason why goals might be in short supply this weekend.
THE STORY SO FAR
"The campaign started reasonably well, got worse, Harry left, it got even worse, they changed the manager again and have improved considerably in the last few months under Paul Hart. It has been effective but not particularly pretty. Pompey have been grinding out the points and it looks like they are going to be safe."
THE MAN IN CHARGE
"It has been a strange situation for the players, having three men in charge over the course of the season. Harry was replaced by someone already at the club and then Tony Adams was replaced by someone else already at the club. The players have known the replacements and the new manager Paul Hart already knew what they were capable of. It added a bit of stability at just the right time because Pompey were in dire straits when Adams was sacked in February.
"Hart has come in and straight away tightened them up defensively. It was a major problem, they leaked goals left, right and centre under Adams. Even under Harry they had some big defeats which was unusual because last season Pompey had a club record for clean sheets – 23 – and that was their strength. Paul Hart has changed that and made them a formidable defensive unit.
"He has had a little bit of criticism over the style of football, which has not been the most attractive, and Paul Hart admits that. But he’s got a job to do to keep Pompey in the top flight and next year he can look to do something different. He has 14 points from his 10 games and they look like surviving."
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
"Pompey’s player of the season has to be Glen Johnson, he has been absolutely magnificent. He’s England’s right back now and he has been superb for Pompey, very consistent. He has even excelled on the right of midfield, so he’s very versatile. I imagine Sean Davis would be in the running but Johnson is streets ahead, he is getting better with every season.
"As for Armand Traore, who is on loan from Arsenal of course, he started well but he hasn’t appeared for the last 11 games. He started exceptionally well with Belhadj on the left-hand side. Normally they would alternate between left-back and left midfield because they are both attacking players. They were fabulous to watch and got the crowd going. But with the need to tighten up and the manager opting for a 4-5-1, Armand has drifted out of the picture. It’s a shame because he had a great impact at first.
"He has unquestionably got the ability to play in the Premier League. He’s an attack-minded player, he runs at people and gets crosses in. He has great energy and he’s a nice lad too, he’s very grounded. He really impressed me."
"Diarra and Defoe have been massive misses and obviously Muntari and Mendes went last summer too. The players who came in were not quite the same calibre. But some very big offers came in from Real Madrid and others, and Pompey still have a decent squad left behind. But when big players like Defoe and Diarra go you can’t really replace them because of the finances."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"The problem Pompey have got in the summer is that the owner doesn’t have the capital to invest in the team any more. That’s why they only paid peanuts in January despite selling some big players. The same applies to the summer. Pompey are up for sale and they desperately need a new owner. Without one it will be a gloomy summer and you will see players sold before others can be bought. It will be different of course if someone comes in and buys the club."
"Paul Hart has played 4-5-1 in all of his 10 games in charge and it is bound to be the same on Saturday. Peter Crouch will lead the attack and with Nico Kranjcar out for the season they will probably go with three sitting midfielders and two wide men. David Nugent has been playing out of position on the right-hand side and Belhadj has been playing on the left. It’s a very steady, reliable side but there is a lack of creativity without Kranjcar. Pompey are a hard team to break down and that’s what is earning them points. Don’t expect too many goals on Saturday."