Why Pompey fans should still believe

Jason Pearce is key to Pompey's hopes of avoiding the drop
Jason Pearce is key to Pompey's hopes of avoiding the drop
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STEVE CANAVAN: The case of the 'kitchen' door is open and shut

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Call me a hopeless optimist or downright daft but I wouldn’t write off Pompey’s hopes of Championship survival just yet.

As Michael Appleton has pointed out, the world has dismissed the chances of his side staying up this season.

Eight points from safety, in administration with the threat of liquidation looming and players exiting left, right and centre.

The perceived wisdom is Pompey now don’t have a prayer of finishing out of the bottom three.

And you could hardly blame the wider football fraternity for thinking that.

But Appleton is carrying the demeanour of a man free from the shackles of any kind of expectation.

That stance is being conveyed to his men, and can put them in a powerful position with 11 games to go.

Last week, the 36-year-old revealed a video of Pompey’s most famous survival run to safety in 2006 got an airing to staff and players.

The deficit, as it is now, was eight points when Pedro Mendes’ goal against Manchester City sparked that amazing run of a single loss in nine games at the start of March.

We all know history provides us with further reasons to believe, too.

Stockport at home in 1998 helped to start bridging a five point gap to safety in February.

But an eight game winless run later ensued building up to Bradford away – and we know what happened there.

A nine game run without a win was the run-up to beating Barnsley in 2001, and Terry Fenwick’s side started the final day in the bottom three before winning at Huddersfield in 1996.

Pompey are now eight games without a maximum and with just a single goal scored over the same period.

But players are returning to fitness and getting back to the sharpness needed.

Which leads us into the weekend clash with Bristol City, an encounter which is as critical a single game as there has been for Pompey in recent times.

The match marks the start of a run of four games in five at Fratton Park.

Victory will cut the gap to five points on Bristol City by Saturday tea-time.

With Appleton’s side still to face the four sides directly above them in the table, there is the feeling it is those matches which will go a long way to deciding the outcome.

A winnable run of fixtures after the derby return at St Mary’s next month until the final trip to Steve Cotterill’s Nottingham Forest also looks reasonably appealing.

What Appleton does need is a group of players to give him a chance to pull it off.

The tightrope walk between keeping the squad competitive and keeping the club alive has to be walked by administrator Trevor Birch.

He knows a Championship side is more appealing to buyers than a League One outfit.

Even taking Hayden Mullins and Stephen Henderson out of the equation, there is still a group of players who give the hope they can string a run together.

Pompey could put out an 11, for example, which could read: Ashdown, Ben Haim, Pearce, Rocha, Halford, Ward, Thorne, Norris, Allan, Varney, Futacs.

That’s without Kelvin Etuhu, who is near to fitness, loanee Chris Maguire, Aaron Mokoena and veterans Benjani and Kanu.

Any more major losses like Jason Pearce, for example, and the mission really does become impossible.

If the verdict from Birch is more major sacrifices have to be made, no one can quarrel with the former Chelsea chief-executive.

The feeling is a weekend loss will tell him there is little hope left of survival and chasing the dream is futile. Success, however, and it’s game on.

Birch then has to decide whether he can be brave enough to allow Appleton the tools to bid for what would surely be the greatest of all the Great Escapes.