Joe Strange - Portsmouth proud despite defeat
Published: 17 May 2010 - 13:13:48
I, like most football fans, love an underdog. Whether it's seeing the overwhelming favourite fall or watching the little club upset the odds, there's something about a shock result that reminds us all why we love the game.
And as much as people say the game in this country is becoming increasingly predictable and dominated by a select few clubs, this season has provided us with some great stories and results throughout the divisions.
From Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool losing away at struggling Wigan Athletic, to relegation favourites Blackpool making it all the way to the Championship play-off final, English football has rarely seen such an open and exciting campaign.
But away from the leagues, the FA Cup has once again conjured up arguably the most magical tale.
With a variety of new owners, debts of around £120 million, administration, a points deduction and relegation to the second tier, Portsmouth football club have experienced more than their fair share of unwanted drama this season. But despite all of their problems, fans of the south coast club have still had a season to remember after seeing their struggling side somehow make it to Saturday's FA Cup final.
Fantastic but unfancied wins over local rivals Southampton, in-form Birmingham City and high-flying Tottenham set up the showpiece event against newly crowned league champions Chelsea.
The game was billed as the 'farewell final' due to the large number of Pompey players that would be pulling on the shirt for the last time. Jamie O'Hara, Aruna Dindane and Frederic Piquionne will all return to their parent clubs after spending the season on loan, while many of the club's players will need to be sold to help ease the financial crisis.
With so many players set to depart, many of whom have been repeatedly paid late or are still owed money, it would have been easy for Avram Grant's men to have given up for the last few months. Instead, the day after being relegated, they went and beat Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final.
Grant didn't rest players in the build-up to Saturday's game, always playing a competitive starting 11, even away at Everton - just six days before the final against his former club.
While the Portsmouth board and owners have been a shambles over the past season, the players have gone about their job admirably. They would've been relegated even without their point deduction but the commitment, work-rate and desire they've shown, particularly since being consigned to the drop, has been nothing short of astonishing.
Chelsea dominated Saturday's game, hitting the woodwork five times in the opening half before Didier Drogba's winner in the second period. But for a team who came bottom of the league, Portsmouth put in a display full of passion, hard-work and at times, quality, to give Carlo Ancelotti's men a genuine scare.
Although they deserved to lose, the performance of a group of players brought together through adversity spoke volumes for the power of football. Players who had been at the club for just a few months were in tears - a testament to the unbelievable team-spirit and belief that their manager has instilled within them.
But as Avram Grant knows only too well, a missed penalty can be the difference between glory and despair and unfortunately for Portsmouth and their fans, a great underdog story wasn't given the fairytale ending many of us would have loved to have seen.
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- A product of Brighton University's prolific youth system, Joe Strange has boundless energy and the enviable ability to cover every blade of grass in his Monday blog. Joe has written for a variety of football websites and fanzines and is also a regular contributor to golf.co.uk. Despite being born and raised in Kent, 'Stranger' is a diehard Everton fan and counts his team's penalty shoot-out victory against Manchester United last season as his most memorable football moment. Follow Joe on Twitter @joe_strange.
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