Pompey head back to Wembley
The Pompey Chimes will ring out over Wembley Stadium again on Sunday when Portsmouth return to the scene of their greatest modern triumph after one of the worst seasons they have ever endured.
Portsmouth face high-flying Tottenham Hotspur in the second of this weekend’s two FA Cup semifinals, and could even start the match as a relegated side if West Ham United and Hull City both win their League matches on Saturday.
The debt-ravaged south coast club have lurched from one crisis to another under a succession of owners over the last nine months and head back to Wembley a vastly different club to the one that ended a 58-year wait for a major trophy when they won the FA Cup in 2008.
But despite being millions of pounds in debt and stranded at the bottom of the Premier League having been docked nine points after going into administration, Avram Grant’s side are, improbably, one win away from their second FA Cup final in three seasons.
The fact that they have to beat Spurs, managed by Harry Redknapp who led them to FA Cup glory over Cardiff City two years ago, only adds to what is likely to be a super-charged atmosphere on Sunday (1500 GMT) between two teams who know each other very well indeed.
Four of Portsmouth’s squad used to play for Spurs, while four Spurs players used to be at Portsmouth, although not all of those eight will be involved on Saturday.
Jamie O’Hara for one, is unable to play because he is on loan from Spurs, while Younes Kaboul, now back at Spurs after 17 months at Portsmouth, has already played for Portsmouth in the competition this season and is cup-tied.
The upheaval at Fratton Park has been so great over the last two years that only four survivors from the team that started the cup final two years ago are still at the club.
Goalkeeper David James, defender Hermann Hreidarsson, and forwards John Utaka and Nwankwo Kanu, who scored the only goal to win the Cup, have all borne witness to the club’s rapid decline, but Hreidarsson will definitely be out with an injury, while James is battling to be fit.
Kanu told his club’s website (www.portsmouthfc.co.uk) this week: “Winning the FA Cup is something we can give back to the fans for all their support.
“They deserve it because they have been incredible and everyone on the pitch has to give 100 per cent for them.
“With what’s happened off the pitch, to be in the semifinal is incredible and something that we have to enjoy.
“Tottenham are favourites but that’s good because the pressure is not on us like it was last time.”
Spurs meanwhile, who won the cup for the eighth time on their last appearance in the 1991 final, head to Wembley as strong favourites.
Involved in the race for fourth place and a possible shot at Champions League football next season, they beat Portsmouth 2-0 at White Hart Lane two weeks ago, and before last week’s defeat at Sunderland, had been unbeaten in their previous nine matches.
The winners will return to Wembley on May 15 to face whoever comes out on top of Saturday’s semi-final between FA Cup holders Chelsea and Aston Villa which kicks off at 1600 GMT.
Chelsea, chasing an FA Cup and League double, thumped Villa 7-1 at Stamford Bridge two weeks ago with Frank Lampard scoring four times and it will be a major upset if Villa avenge that setback so soon.
Chelsea followed that win up by going top of the Premier League when they beat Manchester United at Old Trafford last Saturday but while Chelsea will be focused on the cup this weekend, United could regain top spot in the League if they win at Blackburn Rovers on Sunday.