By Will Fisk
Saturday 20th April 2013. Perhaps one of the most famous days at Fratton Park. Pompey have just been relegated to League 2 after the most tumultuous 5 years, but hope truly sprung eternal that afternoon as Iain McInnes and Ashley Brown took the applause of 3 sides of a bouncing Fratton Park.
Pompey – confirmed relegated in 24th spot – were buoyant with the confirmed acquisition of the club by the PST just days previously combined with the news that their final points deduction would be all but rendered academic by the EFL’s wording confirming that the 10 point deduction would be given to the already written off 2012/13 campaign where off the pitch matters would deem success far more than any matter on it.
The Fratton End, filled with inflatables and an incredible atmosphere, went berserk as Pompey blasted away play-off bound Sheffield United 3-0, with goals from Shaun Cooper, David Connolly and Jed Wallace.
That afternoon promised the dawn of a new Pompey – one that would never again make the mistakes of overspending in the previous 15 years, that had seen 3 administrations sandwiching the most successful period for Pompey in more than 50 years.
So 10 years on, as we reflect on the on and off the pitch ‘achievements’, what has Pompey’s renewed philosophy both under the PST (2013-2017) and the Tornante Company (2017-Present) done for the club’s prospects?
OURS – 2013-14
Pompey’s 2013-14 season in hindsight was always going to be challenging, despite the club’s immediate (and permanent) status as bookie’s favourites in the 4th tier.
Guy Whittingham inherited a budget that reflected a club coming out of administration and rebuilding for the future. Jed Wallace was retained. David Connolly and Patrick Agyemang signed new deals, with Andy Barcham and Ricky Holmes completing what looked a capable attacking unit on paper.
A young Sonny Bradley joined, along with Joe Devera and Simon Ferry, with John Sullivan and Phil Smith battling it out for the keeper spot. As the excitement dawned for the game v Oxford to open up the season, the famous ‘OURS’ banner was unveiled and Johnny Ertl led a huddle in front of the Fratton End.
What followed was a big dose of reality delivered by Chris Wilder’s side, as a brace from Deane Smalley and Alfie Potter either side of the break, and an Ertl red card for an elbow on future blue Danny Rose, set up what was to follow.
Results under Whittingham had some moments, but never truly improved. And following a 4-0 loss away to AFC Wimbledon, where the fans really turned on one of their own, and a 2-1 home loss to Scunthorpe the following week, Whittingham was dismissed.
What followed next was possibly the biggest of a few mistakes that were made during Trust ownership. Following a thorough round of interviews, Richie Barker was appointed, having recently been sacked by Crawley Town, with Steve Coppell also joining the club in a consultancy role.
There were many questions asked from the get go. One player suggesting the process was already lined up with Barker in mind, whilst the aforementioned Wilder was turned down, who would go on to have unprecedented success first with Northampton Town and later Sheffield United.
Barker was a calamity, achieving 4 wins in 20, and producing some dire football. In fairness to Barker, a man who has rebuilt his career as a successful number 2 at Rotherham and Derby, he was trying to rectify a team that couldn’t defend, and in his naivety totally sterilised the teams attacking output.
A 1-0 home loss to York where new captain Ben Chorley was sent off, followed by a 3-0 drubbing at Rochdale, meant once again Pompey had to react. Only a late equaliser elsewhere prevented Pompey from falling to 23rd in League 2.
Enter Andy Awford. A man who perhaps to this day we should all be grateful to, for turning around the team, and galvanising what Awford immediately dubbed ‘the spirit of ‘98’, referring to Alan Ball’s miraculous turnaround in the 2nd tier to keep Pompey up on the last day at Bradford. Results were immediate and fantastic.
Awford, with only 7 games to work with, won the first 5 on the spin, with a couple of very notable home wins against Hartlepool and Bristol Rovers, and drew the final 2 to ensure Pompey not only were safe, but were a Conor Hourihane equaliser for Plymouth away from finishing in the top half. Awford was rightly given the job full time.
Final position – 13th in League 2 – 81st in the Pyramid
‘Being competitive and debt free’ – 2014/15
Reading this now, perhaps we can strike some similarities between the Tornante years and this 2nd year of fan ownership. This was a significant year off the pitch for Pompey. The summer saw them secure the site for ROKO on a lease, where they would move into later that year. The fans would once again dig deep to raise money for pitches via the Tifosy scheme.
And by September 2014, the club proudly revealed that the CVA and all legacy debts had been paid off in just 16 months of club ownership, which was an incredible feat. Pompey commemorated the 1st world war with a unique kit dedicated to the Pompey Pals, with names of the brigade woven into the kit. The club itself was becoming a great place to be.
This did not marry up on the pitch however. When asked about season ambitions, Awford stated the aim was simply ‘to be competitive’. It was clear this would also be a season where promotion was unlikely. Paul Jones arrived in goal, the experienced Paul Robinson joined at centre back, and Danny Hollands arrived in midfield, amongst some others in what on reflection was a poor transfer window. Jed Wallace committed to a long term deal at the start of the season and delivered a season that ultimately would stave off any real threat of relegation.
The campaign started well enough, with 10 points from 12 available, but following a 1-0 loss at home to Newport at the end of August, the season never really recovered. Awford’s nadir came in November, in the FA Cup 1st round against non-league Aldershot. Danny Hollands saved the blushes at Fratton Park to force a replay, but an abject display infront of the TV cameras at the recreation ground saw Pompey dumped out of the 1st round and by a non-league side for the first time in their history.
A 2-0 loss to Wimbledon on Boxing Day, inspired by January signing Matt Tubbs clearly suggested those in charge were losing confidence in Awford, and though there was a rally in results during February which gave some hope to a play-off push, results again deteriorated and Pompey’s hopes for the season were written off with a 3-1 loss to Morecambe where a young Conor Chaplin scored his first senior goal. Awford was sacked on the Monday, and Pompey finished the season in their lowest ever league position.
What did come out of that season though were some clear foundations, despite the low finish – a training ground, a debt free club, and a group of young players in Wallace, Ben Close, Adam May, Jack Whatmough, Adam Webster and Alex Bass, that the club could add to a build the promotion team the fans by now were craving. This would prove the point where the club truly bottomed out on the pitch and the rise back could begin.
Final position – 16th in League 2 – 84th in the pyramid.
‘Promotion. No messing about.’ – 2015/16
Paul Cook was the man brought in from Chesterfield, who had just finished in the play-offs in a League higher during the summer.
It was a statement of intent in appointing a manager whose stock was clearly rising and had the character to manage a club of Pompey’s stature. Cook was given what his predecessors never had – a budget at the very top of the division. Chesterfield’s chief scout, Paul Mitchell, had already done a lot of Cook’s homework for him when he arrived, identifying players who he felt could have competed at the top of L1 on a budget.
Cook used this knowledge, plus the funds of the sale of Jed Wallace to Wolves, to go early and heavy in recruitment, and perhaps that August 2015 window is the best transfer window Pompey have put together in the last 10 seasons.
Kyle Bennett was first through the door, followed by Kal Naismith from Accrington. Enda Stevens joining from Sheffield United given his exploits at Doncaster in the League above looked like a coup from the off, and Cook’s main man at Chesterfield Gary Roberts also joined.
As the window progressed ahead of the opening game, Christian Burgess was signed from Peterborough for an undisclosed fee, and Michael Doyle came in from Sheffield United. Trialist Gareth Evans signed a deal, having previously been at Fleetwood, and Matt Clarke came in on loan from Ipswich for the season, with Paul Robinson being allowed to leave.
The team opened up against Dagenham and Redbridge and it was clear that day that Pompey were going to be a proper force under Cook, despatching them 3-0, with Evans and a Bennett brace opening up affairs.
Pompey were top of the League in mid-October looking a sure bet for promotion, but a run of 1 win in 8 allowed Northampton Town, Oxford United and Plymouth Argyle to push on past them.
Cook did manage to get Pompey to the 4th round of the FA Cup in 15/16, having upset Ipswich in Round 3 via a replay, and having also beaten Championship side Derby County earlier in the season the League Cup.
A great afternoon against newly promoted Premier League side AFC Bournemouth followed, where Pompey were finally undone by a Marc Pugh winner, but scored a quite incredible goal to lead the game via Gary Roberts with 48 passes leading to the goal.
However, January saw some more key losses – 1-0 at home to promotion rivals Oxford under former manager Michael Appleton, and another heartbreak at Morecambe occurred as Barry Roche headed past loan keeper Ryan Fulton in the 96th minute.
For all of Cook’s style, Pompey during this first season lacked a little bit of additional steel, and whilst the trajectory of the side longer term was clear, it all began to look a season too soon.
Pompey kept pushing though, and were very close to automatic promotion, despite some setbacks such as a 3-0 loss at home to Newport. The fateful afternoon probably arrived in April 2016, as an equally stuttering Plymouth Argyle side somehow robbed a 2-1 victory with 2 goals in 30 seconds 5 mins from time, with Pompey having dominated the game.
This was followed up with a horrible night at York, where Pompey lost both Matt Clarke and Adam Webster to injury, and the doomed minstermen claimed their last ever football league win, with a comfortable 3-1 outcome.
Pompey finished in the play-off places, and faced Plymouth in the semi finals. A fantastic game at Fratton ended 2-2, with Pompey for some reason not seeking a winner which may have been key.
At Home Park, injuries to Hollands from the first leg and Evans during the game took their toll as a clearly battle-weary Pompey succumbed to a Peter Hartley stoppage time winner. Plymouth would go on to lose the play-off final to Paul Robinson’s AFC Wimbledon.
A clearly emotional Cook delivered a brilliant interview the following day to Johnny Moore and the club where he stated; ‘I’m a big believer that one game doesn’t decide your fate. We didn’t go up because we weren’t good enough. We were on our knees yesterday, and Plymouth finally found that killer blow that was coming. We don’t want to be on our knees anymore John, we want to get back on our feet and be stronger’.
Final Position – 6th in League 2 – 74th in the Pyramid
‘I’ll move heaven and earth to get this club promoted. Just keep going.’ – 2016/17
The truth is Pompey really needed to get out of League Two. The escrow money was running dry, and the fans themselves were getting tired. The board were all acutely aware of this pressure going into this particular season, and that pressure was heaped on Cook in spades.
Adam Webster, having excelled the previous season, moved onto Ipswich, with Matt Clarke coming the other way in a permanent arrangement. Cook sought to add to his clearly talented squad with experience. David Forde joined in goal, Danny Rose in midfield and Carl Baker out wide. Michael Smith arrived permanently following a loan the previous season and Amine Linganzi also bolstered the midfield ranks.
The season started disappointingly. Carlisle nicked a point on opening day, despite being down to 10 men and setting up in a 5-4-0 shape for the whole second half, and a goalless draw at Crewe and a 2-0 loss at Morecambe where there was an interesting scene between some of Cook’s family and Pompey fans hardly suggested this was a team set for promotion.
A good run in September was halted at Blackpool, and poor results at home to runaway leaders Doncaster and at Notts County followed.
Perhaps the first sign of what was to come a night that saw Pompey defeat Luton Town away and deliver the kind of promotion performance away from home that is needed, as Smith, Evans and Naismith were on target. A come from behind win at Newport on boxing day and completing the double over Luton suggested Pompey were close. Carlisle were beginning to falter too in the 3rd promotion place. But a sudden dip in form again in January that saw losses to Doncaster, Exeter and Leyton Orient had Cook under pressure.
Jamal Lowe and Eoin Doyle arrived to add firepower to a side that often couldn’t quite get over the line in the final third. And results started to come. A brilliant 2-0 win at home to Blackpool where Doyle added a 93rd minute clincher to send Cook running down the touchline, and an incredible 3-0 win at Carlisle meant Pompey were in touching distance. And then came the let down that always seemed to be just around the corner for Pompey. 1-1 at home to Morecambe. And then Crewe. Until this season, I’d never seen a home crowd generally dissolve the way it did when George Ray headed a 78th minute winner.
Fans always believe in promotion seasons there are defining big performances that get you up, and defining moments. A team meeting on the Sunday after Crewe helped, but Pompey on the Tuesday were at Crawley Town. Similar patterns of play were unfolding. 0-0 at the break.
Then Stevens gets fouled in the box. Penalty. Eoin Doyle on the spot, who really hadn’t done it despite that Blackpool goal, saw his pen saved. It looked like it was falling away again. Only for Christian Burgess to power in a header from the resulting corner, which genuinely saw some unbelievable scenes that night in the away end. It was the lightbulb moment for Pompey, as Bennett added a 2nd.
From that point on, there was never any doubt, Pompey were going up. Great days at Colchester and Hartlepool followed, along with wins at Fratton against Grimsby, Newport and Yeovil. A draw with Plymouth on Good Friday, meant Pompey could secure promotion at Notts County on Easter Monday. Jamal Lowe’s late brace coupled with Luton’s draw at Mansfield saw fans stream onto the Meadow Lane turf.
Cook’s side weren’t done there, and won their remaining games, including a superb 6-1 despatching of Cheltenham on the final day to snatch the League 2 title ahead of Plymouth and Doncaster.
It was to be the denouement of fan ownership, as Michael Eisner and the Tornante company had pitched to take on the club, that was now filled with momentum, hope and optimism. Pompey were on their way back.
Final position – 1st in League 2 – 69th in the Pyramid
‘If the goal is to stay in League 1 and 2, they don’t need me’ – 2017/18
Following that promotion to League 2, the club lost 3 key personnel within weeks. Enda Stevens had agreed to head to Sheffield United with Chris Wilder. Michael Doyle had agreed to drop back into League 2 with former club Coventry City.
And most shockingly of all, Paul Cook departed for Wigan Athletic in rather acrimonious circumstances. Cook ultimately engineered his exit to Wigan over a lack of new contract forthcoming, and a disappointing budget uplift following promotion to League 1 under the new ownership.
Several times throughout the season, as Cook guided his new side to the League 1 title he commented how Pompey was ‘such a good club, but a club where there will be some serious changes coming’.
Kenny Jackett was the man entrusted to put together a new Pompey side, and it is worth saying now time has passed, that Jackett’s first 2 seasons were generally very successful, including this one.
Jackett had some good business incoming. Luke McGee, Nathan Thompson, Dion Donohue and Oli Hawkins all arrived, along with a real coup in getting Brett Pitman to join from Ipswich. There were some question marks in allowing Gary Roberts to go for nothing, and in hindsight a poor decision was made to release Michael Smith – a player who has gone on to be nothing other than a success everywhere else he’s been.
Nevertheless with a young core retained from the promotion season, and the few additions above, Pompey were quite exciting to watch, albeit adjusting to life in the higher league. Eisner and Jackett were unveiled ahead of opening day against Rochdale where a Pitman brace saw a 10 a side game finish 2-0 in Pompey’s favour.
Conor Chaplin secured a point at Cook’s Wigan in August and despite some comical losses at home to Oldham and away at Doncaster, Pompey were in good nick by the end of 2017. A 1-0 win at Charlton and good form at Fratton saw Pompey inside the Top 6.
However, a late defeat at Bristol Rovers on New Year’s day started a run that saw 2 wins in 11, putting paid to play-off hopes. A famous 2-1 at MK Dons did come in this run however, with Clarke and Chaplin sending 6,250 Pompey fans mad in the final 10 minutes. Cook’s Wigan were defeated at Fratton on Easter Monday, with Jamal Lowe again starring.
Pompey couldn’t quite find the unlikely run of results needed to get into the Top 6, and defeat at home to Charlton effectively ended any charge. But a final day 2-0 win against Peterborough saw Pitman finish on 25 league goals for the season and a respectable 8th place finish in the first year back up, with momentum still very much in Pompey’s favour.
Final Position – 8th in League 1 – 52nd in the Pyramid
What might have been – 2018/19
In what should have been a journey back up, 2018/19 ultimately became Pompey’s pinnacle over the last decade, and also pivotal in the subsequent disappointments.
Jackett recruited well in the Summer. He was handed a notable budget increase – something that since has evaded future Pompey managers. Kal Naismith and Conor Chaplin were the departures that were all fairly universally lamented, but with Ronan Curtis arriving from Derry, plus what clearly looked like astute recruitment in getting Tom Naylor, Lee Brown and Craig MacGillivray on frees from Burton, Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury meant Pompey looked pretty capable.
The excellent Matt Clarke, by now Pompey’s best player by a good margin, was in imperious form whether it be with the excellent Jack Whatmough or Christian Burgess next to him. The later arrivals of Anton Walkes permanently from Spurs and Ben Thompson and Andre Green on loan from Millwall and Aston Villa meant Pompey’s squad was about as strong as it’s ever been.
It showed on the pitch too. Pompey went unbeaten in the first 11 games, winning 8. Big away wins were gained at Peterborough and Coventry in particular. Whilst Gillingham managed to cause a shock at Fratton Park, it would prove their only defeat going into December, and a 3-1 victory over Sunderland on the Saturday before Christmas sent Pompey 4 points clear at the Top and 8 points ahead of their opposition in 3rd place.
AFC Wimbledon were beaten on New Years Day and it looked for all the world that the Championship was Pompey’s to lose, particularly with an upset of Championship leaders Norwich City at Carrow Road.
Cue the worst transfer window in history. All 4 loanees departed, including the instrumental Thompson and Norwich match winner Green. The replacements – Andy Cannon from Rochdale, Bryn Morris from Shrewsbury and loans Omar Bogle, James Vaughan, Lloyd Isgrove and Viv-Soloman Otabor simply didn’t cut it. An injury to target man Hawkins and right back Nathan Thompson seemed to really upset Pompey, as they lost 3 on the spin to Blackpool, Oxford, and then they were knocked out of the Top 2 following a loss away at new top side Luton.
Jack Whatmough would rupture his cruciate ligament for a third time. And all of a sudden promotion was in real serious jeopardy. Pompey blew a 3-0 lead at Southend and missed a crucial penalty at home to Barnsley that proved vital in the final standings.
But form did pick back up, and Pompey got themselves back to Wembley for the first time in 9 years where they faced Sunderland in the Checkatrade Trophy final, in front of a crowd of 85,021. Sunderland dominated the first half and led through Aiden McGeady’s deflected free kick.
But Pompey were dominant after the break, and Nathan Thompson equalised 8 minutes from time. Jamal Lowe sent the 41,000 Pompey fans wild with a famous chipped effort, before McGeady bundled in an equaliser against the run of play. Pompey would deservedly win out though, as MacGillivray saved from Lee Cattermole and Oli Hawkins netted the decisive spot kick.
7 wins in the row in the League following a win against Coventry meant Pompey had it in their hands with 3 to go to secure automatic promotion, but a bizarre draw at Sunderland which did favours to neither preceded an infamous evening at Fratton Park against Peterborough.
Pompey dominated the game fully, but were caught on the counter for Lee Tomlin’s opener, and Ivan Toney’s dominant header from a corner. The in-form Ben Close got Pompey back into it before the break, and when Christian Burgess equalised there was surely only one winner. Then Pitman was in on goal, as Posh themselves pushed for a needed winner. He squared it to Viv Soloman Otabor in an offside position, and though he put it in, hopes evaporated in that moment, particularly with Toney scoring a winner within 60 seconds of the game being restarted.
Pompey again would face Sunderland in the play-offs, and this time the Black Cats would prevail, winning 1-0 at the Stadium of Light before frustrating Pompey at Fratton Park in a 0-0 draw. Charlton Athletic would win the playoffs, as Luton and Barnsley clinched the Top 2. This was the missed opportunity, and truthfully, Pompey have never really recovered in the 4 years since.
League Position – 4th in League 1 – 48th in the Pyramid
Moves for Summer Football – 2019/20
The 2019/20 season was generally one of the most harrowing in football memory for many reasons. Not least that League 1 was competed between 23 sides, following Bury’s expulsion from the EFL in August. It was a very poor standard of division that particular year, with Bolton and Southend also effectively down before a ball was kicked, only leaving 1 relegation spot open.
At the top end, Pompey and Sunderland were installed as heavy favourites to win promotion, given the states of Bolton, along with Ipswich and Rotherham who had also come down.
In truth, Pompey were clearly suffering a hangover from the previous year, despite their relatively strong budget position, only beaten by the Mackems and the Tractor Boys.
Matt Clarke and Jamal Lowe departed for a combined fee of £6.4m, as did Nathan Thompson on a free. Pompey made 3 big attacking recruits of their own in Marcus Harness for £750k from Burton Albion, Ellis Harrison for from Ipswich in a deal where no actual money was exchanged, but rather an Ipswich debt to Pompey for Adam Webster was written off to the tune of £425k, and John Marquis arrived for a fee that approached £1m from Doncaster Rovers. James Bolton was signed as Thompson’s replacement, and academy product Ryan Williams returned to add in the wide areas.
Clarke’s departure and Whatmough’s injury meant that Paul Downing was signed from Blackburn on a free and Sean Raggett arrived from Norwich on loan. Whilst Raggett to this day has been a steady performer for Pompey, Downing’s arrival would prove to be a disaster as Pompey looked suddenly very shaky at the back.
Despite their tips at Champions elect before a ball was kicked, Pompey never truly looked likely. Defeats on the road at Shrewsbury and Sunderland started the season, and whilst relegated to-be Tranmere were beaten at Fratton, Jackett began to lose the trust of the fans with an infamous draw to 9 man Coventry City at Fratton Park, with the Blues having led 3-1 at the point of the first red card. That draw, a hiatus due to the Victorious festival, Bury’s expulsion and the international break, meant that Pompey in September were an utter mess.
An awful performance against Burton and a Carabao Cup exit to arch rivals Southampton sandwiched a 1-0 loss at Wycombe Wanderers. ‘We want Jackett out’, came the very audible cry from the away end.
However, an unconvincing 1-0 victory over Bolton following the Southampton loss actually started an upward trajectory for Pompey in a season where they would otherwise go unbeaten at home in the league. However bad away losses to Wimbledon, Accrington and MK Dons did little to allay fears that this team were stuttering.
However, the turn of the year saw Steve Seddon and Cameron McGeehan arrive on loan, and Pompey went on a 9 match winning run in all competitions that saw them reach the FA Cup 5th round, and get back to Wembley following Marquis’ 96th minute winner against Exeter City.
But a defeats to Coventry at St. Andrews and at Fleetwood saw automatic promotion hopes stall. A great night against Arsenal followed, but Pompey only collected 1 point from games away to Peterborough and at home to Fleetwood, saw Pompey in 4th place at the point the season was halted, 2 points off the autos.
Such was the congestion at the Top of League 1, Coventry were beginning to look like the team running away with it, but 4 points separated Rotherham in 2nd and Sunderland in 8th. A decision was taken to curtail the League 1 season, which centered in the end about to how calculate points per game – on a weighted or unweighted basis. That the league went unweighted went in Pompey’s favour ultimately, as a weighted formula would have seen them out of the playoffs altogether.
Coventry and Rotherham were promoted, and Pompey would play Oxford United in the play-off semi finals in July. Jackett again managed to muddle himself by selecting Bryn Morris, back from injury and being nowhere near the team, ahead of Tom Naylor for the semis. Pompey were the better side for nearly all of the Fratton fixture, and most of the return game. However, both finished 1-1, with Ellis Harrison’s own goal proving key as the match went to penalties. McGeehan saw his effort saved, and Pompey were condemned again to League 1. The tide on Jackett, and even the club itself was turning.
Final Position – 5th in League 1 (on uPPG) – 49th in the pyramid
Good ways to lose – 20/21
The 20/21 season was perhaps more remarkable for the clear lack of ambition Pompey were displaying during the coronavirus pandemic. The North Stand was re-clad, but the ground was clearly decaying and there was a delay in works, partly due to the National state of affairs, but also a delay in reacting with the club clearly so dependent on gate revenue. It began to beg the question – could the fans have held the club together like this themselves?
It was evident Pompey were in ‘holding’ mode. Only 3 players arrived permanently in the Summer window – Sean Raggett, Callum Johnson and Michael Jacobs, whilst Cameron Pring and Rasmus Nicolaisen arrived on loans. Christian Burgess, Brett Pitman, Oli Hawkins, Gareth Evans, Adam May, Luke McGee and Brandon Haunstrup all left. Whilst some of those were on their way down, it was clear; this was a weaker Pompey side.
Draws at home to Shrewsbury and away to Rochdale started the season before financially stricken Wigan shockingly defeated the Blues 2-1 at Fratton Park. Results did improve after that however in Jackett’s defense. 3-1 wins at Sunderland and then Lincoln were particularly excellent, and a 2-0 win at Hull on Sky TV saw Pompey top the League 1 table at Christmas.
In truth though, Pompey were in a false position – they had played more games than most and the season was not at its usual halfway point. Pompey, Hull and Lincoln were the Top 3 going into January, and the Tigers and the Imps came to Fratton in back to back home games, with both claiming 3 points. Hull by a 4-0 scoreline, and Lincoln with a 1-0 triumph.
Following a 2-0 against Swindon, it was announced Jackett needed to have a routine operation on his arm following a cancer scare. When he returned however, results truly nose-dived, along with performances. Pompey tumbled to 10th place, and the rearranged EFL trophy final v Salford, that Pompey had originally sold 53,000 tickets for, saw a loss on penalties after Craig MacGillivray prevented Salford getting the win sooner.
Danny Cowley would arrive, and his infectious personality brought a short term change in results with wins against Ipswich in his first game, followed by results against Shrewsbury, Rochdale and Wigan. But despite a favourable run in, results again declined, and Pompey could not hold onto a playoff spot. A win against Bristol Rovers put Pompey back in with a shot, and then a harrowing 3-3 draw at Accrington followed, as Pompey clawed their way back into a 3-2 lead with Marquis netting on minute 90, only for the same player to score an own goal deep into stoppage time.
Lee Brown’s double at Wimbledon put Pompey in pole position to secure the playoffs, only for a final day defeat at Accrington, coupled with Oxford’s victory meant Pompey regressed back to 8th place. The team would need a rebuild, and Year 4 of the Eisner ownership ultimately had seen them right back to where they started 3 years previously.
Final position – 8th place in League 1 – 52nd in the Pyramid
‘A team the people of Portsmouth can be proud of’ – 2021/22
Throughout the summer, there seemed to be a belief in Pompey corridors that League 1 would realign following the coronavirus pandemic. The club announced the departure of Mark Catlin with Andrew Cullen coming in from MK Dons as his replacement and an £11m upgrade of Fratton Park would commence from that season, significantly reducing capacity.
However, a clear misread of the clubs around them happened. The 2 previous seasons had seen weak divisions. But all of a sudden, Sheffield Wednesday were back in League 1, Sunderland were under new ownership with ambitions of finally getting out, whilst Ipswich Town and Wigan Athletic were also under new ownership and spending far more than was previously anticipated. From being a team in the Top 6 of budgets, Pompey were suddenly a top half side being left behind with their own revenue streams handicapped for the short term.
Cowley’s recruitment idea was far different to his predecessor – to go later in the window to get value out of a relatively weaker budget (if not in absolute terms). This brought some success with the arrivals of Gavin Bazunu and George Hirst on loan, whilst the permanent signings of Connor Ogilvie and to some extent Joe Morrell proving successful.
In truth, Pompey were never on the pace for promotion, despite winning their first 3 at Fleetwood and then at home to Crewe and Shrewsbury. Defeat at Wigan in August, led to a run of 1 win in 9 – that a 4-0 win against Sunderland at home at a sodden Fratton Park – which culminated with a 4-0 reverse against Ipswich and Pompey down in 17th in the League.
Pompey recovered in November and December, with their win at Wycombe Wanderers in November 2021 the last time they beat a side that ended in the Top 6 side away in the League. Again match postponements due to Covid seemed to interrupt form, and Pompey again fell away to 13th by the start of February 2022. Pompey did finish the season from February onwards in good form, keeping up 2 points per game all the way from February 8th to April 26th – a run of 18 games, which culminated in an excellent come from behind 3-2 win v Champions-elect Wigan at Fratton Park.
But it was a season where the side was clearly well off of the pace. A season of transition was all it was, and Pompey recorded their lowest position since promotion, despite a higher points return than the previous season. However, with the removal of Paul Downing, John Marquis, Ellis Harrison and Lee Brown from the squad by the season’s end, there was definite scope for hope to improve for the following year.
Final Position – 10th in League 1 – 54th in the Pyramid
‘A need for immediacy’ – 2022/23
And so we come to the current campaign. A season where Pompey’s relative budget position improved, due to the promotions of Wigan and Sunderland in particular, but remains short of the Top 6.
It’s a season that started so promisingly with good recruitment. Marlon Pack came back, Joe Rafferty and Tom Lowery joined on frees, and Colby Bishop was signed from Accrington for £500k, following Marcus Harness’ sale to Ipswich. Zak Swanson joined from Arsenal, which is looking an increasingly auspicious signing, whilst the loan market was used to recruit Owen Dale, Joe Pigott and Dane Scarlett.
A 3-3 draw on opening day at Sheffield Wednesday was very encouraging, and following 6 wins from our first 9, Pompey were joint top with Ipswich in mid September. However, an injury to Lowery in the previous fixture v Plymouth, an injury to Rafferty with Ogilvie moved to right back and a poor performance at Portman Road in truth, is something that this season has never really recovered from. Cowley won 1 of his final 14 league games – a truly horrendous run, that saw him dismissed as Pompey collapsed to mid-table.
By this point, Richard Hughes had arrived from Forest Green, and his and Andy Cullen’s first selection for manager was to appoint John Mousinho to the role.
It is fair to say Mousinho has made Pompey far more organised and hard to beat since Cowley’s departure. A rookie in his own right, having cut his teeth as part of Karl Robinson’s staff at Oxford, and only remaining a pro for the last 18 months to some extent to retain his role as Head of the PFA, Mousinho is now entrusted with getting Pompey finally into the Championship.
Mousinho won his first two 2-0 against Exeter at Fratton and away at Fleetwood, and at the time of writing, he’s only lost 4 fixtures – away at Peterborough, Plymouth and Barnsley and at home to Sheffield Wednesday. In truth though, there has been a tail off in performance levels recently as Pompey have only won 1 of the last 6, all against bottom 8 sides, with the exception of 1 in Shrewsbury.
The season effectively ended on Tuesday night with a 1-1 draw at Oxford ahead of this afternoon’s game with Accrington. Pompey are likely tracking for a 9th placed finish.
Likely finish – 9th in League 1 – 53rd in the Pyramid
Comment/Overall Review of the decade
The further you review this last decade, the more you realise it has started to become a chore to follow Pompey. The excitement and roller coaster that was the first few years under the Trust as the club really struggled in League 2 with mitigating circumstances is a memory of the past, yet one you perversely look on with more pride than the more recent times. Perhaps that’s an appreciation of the circumstances.
In truth, the Cook years at the back end of the Trust ownership and the first couple of Jackett years under Tornante were the key point from where Pompey should have got themselves up. From 2019 onwards, this is a club where progression has stalled, and there needs to be an injection of both funding and direction from the ownership to ensure, if it’s not already the case, that Pompey’s level does not become the Top half of League 1.
In reality for all of the aches of the spell 2008-2013, we have to remember that it was 5 years of time of horrendous suffering. This more recent decade now means that a post administration Pompey have truly established themselves as a League 1 club. It’s time to find the gear change to get this club back to the level the fans know they ought to be.