Our friend optimism returns to greet campaign

Danny Rose has looked bright for Pompey in pre-season. Picture: Neil Marshall

Danny Rose has looked bright for Pompey in pre-season. Picture: Neil Marshall

Stevenage boss Darren Sarll

Promotion watch: what’s at stake this weekend?

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That perennial feeling of optimism is back.

It’s there like an unreliable old friend we’ve grown tired of but have known far too long to turn our back on.

You accept it’s presence with a knowing nod, but you’re prepared to be let down once again.

Because, of course, it’s the hope that kills you. But, at the same time it’s the hope which keeps you coming back.

And amazingly Pompey fans are set to do it in greater numbers this weekend than they have at any time in recent years.

The latest count is around 16,000 ahead of the curtain-raiser against Carlisle this weekend.

Incredibly, season tickets account for 12,250 of them – the best return Pompey fans have delivered since falling into English football’s basement tier three years ago.

Confidence is the fuel for that, but on what basis? Blind optimism? Or realistic expectation?

Well, we’re well versed in opening-day disappointment, of course.

Before last season’s straightforward success over a poor Dagenham & Redbridge side, the run stretched back a whopping nine years to the 3-0 win over Blackburn at the start of the 2006-07 season.

The biggest dagger blow of recent times was undoubtedly the 4-1 tanning from Oxford United at the start of the community era in 2013.

But, every time, we return with the same buoyancy, the same anticipation, the same brightness at what lies on the road ahead.

And quite right, too, because isn’t that the football fans’ lot?

For the majority that cheerful enthusiasm will be kicked out of us by the time the leaves start falling off the tress.

What’s to stop that being the case for this time around?

The pain of Home Park is a good starting point.

Let the hurt of last-ditch play-off defeat to Plymouth remain raw.

Let no one forget what having the expectation of promotion crushed felt like.

Paul Cook ducked his press duties that night for fear of breaking down.

Chief exec Mark Catlin will never forget having to exchange pleasantries in a jubilant boardroom while feeling sick.

Cook was back at his desk 12 hours later, driven to put things right.

So what of the business he’s conducted in the 12 weeks or so since?

Nine new faces have arrived to supplement a powerful-looking squad.

Three arrive at the back with Adam Webster departing, although Matt Clarke was around last term.

They are expected to at least maintain a record which saw just Oxford United concede fewer league goals last season.

In front of them, Danny Rose, at this early stage, appears a very astute piece of business – his energy eye-catching in pre-season.

Milan Lalkovic evidently has the ability to get fans off their seats, but will be challenged with doing so consistently.

Up top, Curtis Main has a point to prove as he aims to show he can provide a regular supply of goals.

At Bristol City last weekend, Michael Smith had the look of a man with a swagger returning to his game as he more than punched his weight with two man-mountain defenders.

We wait to see whether there’s the first 20-goal striker there since Svetoslav Todorov in 2003.

The suspicion is they may have to be shared around again – which is where Carl Baker and, indeed, Gary Roberts become central characters.

But perhaps the key man arrived just last week.

In David Forde, there is a genuine hope the presence, experience and character is there between the sticks to solve Pompey’s keeper woes.

Enough reasons to be cheerful then? We’ll turn up in hope again on Saturday as we wait to find out.

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