Though the Blues were top of Division One, there was still half a season to go, so Mark Storey’s crystal ball was working well when he wrote: ‘Fast forward to August, and Pompey - hopefully - playing their first ever game in the Premiership. Thanks to a day out in Manchester, it suddenly doesn’t seem so daunting.’
Though Sir Alex Ferguson’s side beat Pompey 4-1 and ended their FA Cup dreams, for half-an-hour the Blues had Manchester United on the back foot.
And, with some better finishing, maybe, just maybe, they could have caused an upset with an energetic, slick passing game that, several times, unlocked the gate to one of the best defences in the country.
Think Vincent Pericard’s power, poise and pace to glide away from Mikael Silvestre down one flank and Rio Ferdinand at the byline. Think Matt Taylor dominating Gary Neville and David Beckham in the second half.
And think of the move which sent Nigel Quashie away for a chance to equalise, only to see his shot soar over the bar.
Without causing an upset, and despite the lopsided look of the 4-1 scoreline, the trip to Old Trafford gave Pompey all they could have wanted. There was the genuine hope, at 2-1, that Harry Redknapp’s side could force at least a draw.
It burned from the moment Steve Stone lashed in a loose ball in United’s box until Ruud van Nistelrooy scored his second penalty.
And, despite the inevitability of Paul Scholes’s 90th-minute fourth to gloss the scoreline, Pompey fans could leave Manchester knowing their side had troubled United with proper football for a sustained period.
A team that had started the season hoping for a top six finish after years in the Division One basement now knew they were potential Premiership players.
Pompey v Machester United
Date: 01 April 2003
Venue: Old Trafford
Pompey Scorers: Steve Stone