Saturday, 15 May 2010

Up for the Cup

Whatever happens today at the FA Cup final there should be 30,000 extra medals handed out to each and every fan who has made the trip from the south coast this morning. They are there supporting 11 heroes (12 including Avram Grant) who have given them a reason to be proud this season when all seemed lost. Portsmouth has become a total dichotomy; on one side there is the fans club seemingly galvanised by the situation that has made them group together and stand united with the players and manager. Then we are faced with the business club, a total failure and a shining example of gross incompetence. The business men who lost all sense of realism and buoyed by an upturn in the clubs fortunes started to live beyond their means forgot that they run Portsmouth football club not a multinational company. They betrayed fans who trusted them time and time again to take steps to protect the clubs future and at each turn it seems greed and self promotion dominated rather than the common good of Portsmouth. Today at Wembley is a day for the true Portsmouth, the fans, the players and the manager. They deserve this day more than many who have previously enjoyed the privilege. There are stories to be told all over the pitch. Many who could have walked away from the fight did not. Kanu and David James both survivors from the Harry Redknapp side that won here what seems a lifetime ago have stuck with this team and this club. Both will be expected to leave in the summer but by both sticking out this season they have won a place in Pompey folklore. Avram Grant in an added twist will be facing his old team. At Chelsea he was the unlikely successor to Jose Mourinho and faced an uphill struggle to win the affection of fans of what many now deemed to now be Mourino's club. This was a struggle he seemed to be winning as his contract was terminated after the Champions League final loss to Manchester United. The fans moved on and so did Avram but a feeling that he never got the recognition from the fans perhaps endured. Today as Chelsea stand on the verge of a double they must surely feel is in the bag he has the chance to thwart them and have the last laugh.

Chelsea have had a difficult season. This seems a strange statement to make as they are on he brink of completing the League - Cup double but it has been anything but easy. They have hit brilliant highs with their free goalscoring but also endured desperate lows with the Champions League exit and games such as the loss to Blackburn where the Premeriship title seemed to be slipping out of their grasp. It has shown tremendous character to bounce back from these lows and in a season where none of the 'big 4' has been at there best this has been one of the more difficult Titles they will have won. It has been affirming for the squad to come through these times after 3 unstable seasons dominated by Manchester United they looked in desperate need of a Title. Carlo Ancelotti has also silenced many critics at least for now. To face such a tight run in against two managers with huge experience of 'squeaky bum time' and to come out on top of the pile is a truly great achievment. When Sir Alex does retire will his successor win the title in their first season as Ancelotti has done? The only black mark against Ancelottis name is that he was bought in to win the Champions League as this is Abramovich's holy grail. This will again be the aim next year, and another failure may be hard to accept especially if the purse strings are loosened this summer as expected.

The question is can Portsmouth join the list of underdogs to win the final and stand alongside Wimbledon, Sunderland and Southampton with perhaps the greatest fairytale story of them all? Or will their fairytale end just as Fulham's did in Hamburg on Wednesday.
Free scoring Chelsea have already thumped Pompey 5-0 this season and that will still be in the minds of a few players on both sides. On that day David James gifted Chelsea the lead after a nervy start with a total air kick allowing the ball to roll beyond him. James will have to be at his absolute best today if Pompey are to create cup shock history, but with the World Cup fast approaching and his fitness and form stll to prove he just might be. A focus point for many is what will be torn apart first the Portsmouth defence or the Wembley turf. If this latest relaying leaves us with another ploughed field after 20 mins this could disrupt Chelsea and play into Portsmouths hands. The power of Drogba and the skill of Lampard running the midfield I fear will be irrestistable today no matter what. Portsmouth will need a goal I just cant see them getting bar a wonder strike or fluke. Avram Grant will have to make his players believe and keep believing throughout the match despite the thumping they took earlier in the season. His formation and set up will have to be spot on and if still level at 70 mins he will surely have to start thinking about holding on for penalties, or is he planning for that from the start? Carlo Ancelotti will have to keep his dressing room egos calm and remind them the Cup is not won. History shows us and him just how deadly over confidence can be.

It is possible Chelsea could destroy the opposition today as they did to Wigan last week and Stoke the week before and Portsmouth in March. I however feel showboating and Portsmouth grit and pride may halt a demolition. Goals will come though just through the magnitude of chances they will create and I see 3-0 and 3-1 as realistic scores with Drogba and Lampard the usual suspects for first goal scorer.

From there Chelsea will need to strengthen and next year continue their search for that elusive Champions League title. Portsmouth next year perhaps should seek to emulate West Bromwich Albion who are the only side to win the FA Cup and gain promotion to the first division in the same season. Avram Grant is rumoured to be heading to West Ham in he summer so holding on to Grant or installing an equally steady hand at the helm will also be essential in preventing Pompey free falling through the leagues as Leeds, Norwich and Southampton have before them. Financial security and ensuring the clubs future will precede all football talk however.

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