The 1990s and into the 21st century - From the doldrums to the Premiership

Paul Merson lifts the Championship trophy in April 2003.  PICTURE: STEVE REID (032070-39)

Paul Merson lifts the Championship trophy in April 2003. PICTURE: STEVE REID (032070-39)

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ALAN Ball’s triumph was shortlived. Pompey were in the top flight for just one season before they were relegated back into the old second division - later the Nationwide first division - where they languished for more than a decade.

There was one bright spot in 1992, when Pompey were minutes away from causing one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history as Darren Anderton’s goal put Pompey ahead of the mighty Liverpool in an FA Cup semi-final at Highbury. Sadly, they became the first team to get knocked out of the cup on penalties at that stage as they lost the replay at Villa Park. More agony was to follow 12 months later as Pompey and West Ham United were vying for promotion - Pompey missed out by just two goals.

In 1996 they avoided relegation on the last day of the season after beating Huddersfield. And two years later they repeated the feat on the final day by winning 3-1 at Bradford. The club went into administration and, as they desperately tried to find a new owner, Serb-American millionaire Milan Mandaric stepped in. Pompey’s last-day heroics came to the fore once again, when they stared relegation in the face on the final day of the 2000/01 season - but a 3-0 win over Barnsley rescued them yet again at Fratton Park to send the fans into ecstasy.

But it was Harry Redknapp’s arrival as manager that brought the good times back to Fratton Park. In his first, remarkable, season as boss Redknapp piloted the Blues to the division one title in 2003. Inspired by skipper Paul Merson, Pompey smashed records wherever they went. There was a club record eight straight wins, 98 points and 97 goals. Svetoslav Todorov won the first division’s golden boot, hitting the net 26 times. And it was his goal that secured the Blues promotion with a 1-0 win over Burnley at Fratton Park on April 15, 2003, a day forever etched in the memory of Blues fans who went wild with joy. Twelve days later, and the scenes were repeated as Pompey beat Rotherham 3-2 at Fratton to land the title - their first silverware for 20 years.

Redknapp then put together a side which finished a respectable 13th in their first season in the promised land of the Premiership - a dream come true for all true Blues - and plans for a new stadium began to take shape. A new Fratton Park was promised ... someday. But Redknapp’s relationship with chairman Milan Mandaric became increasingly fraught, with hints of arguments over control of the transfer budget. Harry and his emblematic assistant Jim Smith left midway through the 2004-5 season after the appointment of Velimir Zajec as executive director - and, the ultimate betrayal in fans’ eyes, Harry popped up as manager of Southampton.

Zajec acted as caretaker manager in a spell which saw the club sliding close to relegation. But a late season revival under Frenchman Alain Perrin - sparked by a 4-1 win over Redknapp’s doomed Saints - kept the club in the Premiership.

The 2005-6 season was a nervous one, the club sliding seemingly inexorably down the table.

Milan Mandaric sold a share in the club to Russian millionaire Sacha Gaydamak. An in an amazing turnaround another new manager was tasked with keeping the club up - a certain Harry Redknapp.

Shortly after his re-entry, the club seemed doomed for the drop, eight points adrift from safety.

But with shrewd dealings in the January transfer window, Harry rebuilt the side just in time for a remarkable run of results in the run-in and achieved The Great Escape with a match to spare.

In the folllowing season, 2006-7, the tension was at the other end of the table, with the Blues pipped for a place in Europe by a disallowed goal. Big names like David James and Sol Campbell came aboard, negotiations were under way for a new training ground at Titchfield, and after a number of sites were proposed and rejected, visionary plans were being drawn up for a new stadium on Horsea Island to hold the increased crowds that Premiership success promised.

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