Cardiff 3 Pompey 2

Chaplin sends Pompey Reserves into Premier League Cup

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Michael Appleton describes himself as an optimist.

Thankfully he is also a realist.

And Pompey’s boss is only too aware the outlook for retaining his bright, young things has just turned bleak.

It was a member of Appleton’s own backroom staff who relayed the latest blow to rain down upon the club.

That was after reading in The News on Saturday about Pompey owing HMRC £1.6m.

Not even chief executive David Lampitt had mentioned the matter to his manager, who must now brace himself for the possibility of selling off his players to foot the bill.

Another problem for the ever-weary Appleton to deal with.

The HMRC situation may have emanated from another part of the football club.

It may have been kept quiet to avoid spreading panic.

Nonetheless, expect it to impact heavily on the first-team.

The meat has been tossed out to attract the vultures – now watch them feed.

Jason Pearce, Joel Ward and Stephen Henderson all represent attractive transfer propositions through age and talent.

To think two of the trio arrived in the summer, effectively for peanuts having been regulars in League One sides.

The unpalatable truth is there will have to be sacrifices made should a takeover not come to fruition soon. Very, very soon.

Granted, Joseph Cala represented an uncomfortable prospect, a man with a record of aquatic disasters to seriously rival Only Fools & Horses’ Uncle Albert.

Yet Cala had been in communication with the Football League for a month, having been given the nod by both Andrew Andronikou and Portpin to pursue a takeover.

To date, no other potential owner has travelled such a distance, despite the Italian now curiously being dismissed by Andronikou as nothing more than a tyre kicker.

Cala’s so-very dramatic withdrawal on Friday has now left hope being pinned on Brian Howe, the musician who resides in Florida.

At least his affection for Pompey stands up to scrutiny.

It just remains to be seen whether the consortium he heads can reach a deal.

Of course, on Saturday there was a football match to be played.

As is the wont with Pompey, however, it was the off-field woes which dominated.

For the weary fans, there is once again more at stake than a 90-minute match.

As it proved, within hours of an agonising 3-2 defeat at Cardiff, came more depressing news.

Andronikou’s latest confession, this time in a national newspaper, contained the admittance HRMC will this week issue a petition to wind the club up.

With nine days remaining until the January transfer window shuts, time is running out to cash in on the few bankable assets remaining.

It just so happens, such assets are three youngsters who have already been coveted.

Whether it be Ipswich, Leicester or Newcastle, somebody is going to get a steal.

Most crucial of all, that money is required to pay HMRC £1.6m to keep Portsmouth Football Club alive.

Having at his disposal 13 senior players for the trip to Wales, it’s not even as though Appleton can afford to let any leave.

As we all know, however, he will have to.

Unless Balram Chainrai was to put in another high-rate loan to keep his own asset afloat.

Regardless, the grim likelihood is for the trip to Peterborough this weekend, there will be some gaps in the squad to fill.

How cruel then that this current side were deprived of a point at the death in conceivably their last match together.

Deep into stoppage-time, substitute Benjani needlessly pushed over Peter Whittingham on the left flank.

The midfielder swiftly played the ball inside to Craig Conway who unleashed a 25-yarder past Henderson.

Not a single Pompey player had attempted to close down the Cardiff man as he strode forward unchallenged before unleashing his match-winner.

Up until that point, Appleton’s injury and suspension-ravaged side had appeared destined for a point.

It had been tough going, they had to dig deep under some intense pressure.

Nonetheless, an impressive point was within their grasp.

Then Conway popped up with a goal to send the home fans into raptures and leave the shambolic defence distraught.

Earlier, Kenny Miller gave the Bluebirds a 15th-minute lead as they ran riot during the first half.

Whittingham swung in a cross from the right and when Henderson produced a poor punch the ball fell to the striker who steered it home from a tight angle.

The hosts continued to batter Appleton’s men – only for Marko Futacs to equalise.

Erik Huseklepp delivered a cross from the left which was inexplicably dropped by keeper David Marshall.

And Pompey’s Hungarian striker was there to sidefoot the ball into an empty net. It was a dreadful mistake and gave a lifeline to the visitors the barely deserved.

What’s more, in the 49th minute Greg Halford swivelled and netted inside the penalty area after Liam Lawrence’s corner.

Suddenly the Blues had an improbable 2-1 lead, much to their own fans’ surprise.

But in the 69th minute, Futacs – now operating as a right-sided midfielder – failed to pick up Conway.

The Cardiff man then had time to deliver a cross which skipper Mark Hudson headed home.

It remained for Pompey to guts it out for the final 21 minutes and grab an excellent point in the face of more heavy pressure.

Then Conway had his say.

It was last-minute heartbreak for Pompey fans but, of course, there is plenty more to come off the field. HMRC requires paying £1.6m and a winding up petition is to be put on the club.

Now we all know.

With no immediate takeover in sight, there can only be one solution.

Players need to be sold, as painful as that may be for supporters.

Then again, there are none as realistic as Pompey supporters having gone through so many trials and tribulations in recent times.

And like them, Appleton expects the smallest squad in the Football League to be torn up.