David James, Jamie O'Hara, Jed Wallace... Neil Allen picks his Portsmouth team of the decade as 2020 approaches
A turbulent decade tainted by catastrophe and misfortune draws to a close.
There have been three relegations, two administrations, the deduction of 29 points, eight managers, two play-off semi-final defeats and potential liquidation at the High Court.
Yet moments to savour, too, particularly during a revival initiated by the Fratton faithful, ensuring the League Two title and Checkatrade Trophy finally made acquaintance with Fratton’s Park silverware cabinet.
There was, of course, also an FA Cup final, albeit losing to Chelsea, nonetheless with a Wembley display to restore battered Pompey pride.
It represented a top-flight swansong, before tumbling through the Football League’s divisions.
Still, since the arrival of 2010, a total of 240 players have appeared for Pompey, including 45 debutants in the wretched 2012-13 campaign alone.
There have been a sizeable amount of stand-out performers during the past 10 years, ascending above stretches of mediocrity to light up Fratton Park.
So when selecting a best Pompey XI from the past decade as we steadily approach 2020, what better starting point than that FA Cup final team five months into the 2010s.
David James and Jamie O’Hara never again appeared for the Blues following that 1-0 defeat courtesy of Didier Drogba’s second-half goal.
However, both have earned my pick when drawing together the finest players to have represented Pompey during a decade nearing culmination.
James would play just 17 times for Pompey in the 2010s, before embarking for Bristol City at the expiry of his contract.
Yet in his four seasons on the south coast, he established himself as the finest Blues goalkeeper in living memory, remaining a class act until the very end, when skippering Avram Grant’s side in that final.
In fact, he represents the first name on the team sheet in this select XI, with nobody else close to surpassing him in goal during the ensuing years.
Choosing a 4-2-3-1 system, playing the Paul Cook way, requires swashbuckling full-backs capable of racking up the assists during surges towards the byline.
So step forward Enda Stevens, the left-back who arrived at Fratton Park seeking to restore his career following a somewhat nomadic period of loan spells and temporary homes.
He left Fratton Park in the summer of 2017 for Sheffield United following 99 appearances, accompanied by the League Two title and The News/Sports Mail’s Player of the Season.
Today Stevens is a Premier League regular and Republic of Ireland international, a deserved outcome for a consistently-outstanding performer during the Cook era.
At right-back, it has to be Gareth Evans. Despite not being a conventional right-back and, in truth, suited to the role only in Cook’s 4-2-3-1 approach, he was superb in that 2016-17 title-winning campaign.
He netted a penalty in the Meadow Lane promotion match and a spot-kick in the final-day clincher against Cheltenham – while to date has 36 goals in 204 Pompey appearances.
Evans’ energy, work-rate, commitment and song choices means there has to be a place for him somewhere in this team. Although, there are three better candidates in three attacking spots.
In terms of the centre-halves, Matt Clarke dominates. Enough said.
For his partner-in-crime, it was difficult to separate Jason Pearce and Ricardo Rocha – two fine players who served Pompey with such distinction.
The classy Rocha featured in that 2010 FA Cup final, having been man-of-the-match in the semi-final triumph over Spurs, and appeared 97 times spanning three different divisions.
Pearce just gets the nod, though – a no-nonsense defender who collected The News/Sports Mail Player of the Season award in 2011-12, a campaign which saw him appointed skipper mid-way through at the age of 24.
Talking of captaincy, only one man can possibly lead this side – Michael Doyle.
The League Two title-winning skipper was a fierce midfield presence under Cook, a magnificent leader who, for a period, refused to let a broken shin and serious knee injury drag him out of the side.
A master of the dark arts, he was a player opponents hated tangling with and team-mates relished having as an ally, while supporters crowned him their The News/Sports Mail Player of the Season in 2015-16.
As mentioned earlier, O’Hara deserves to be his midfield partner, despite featuring only 15 times in the 2010s.
The Spurs loanee was a hard-running, energetic performer who gave his all and, memorably, was among the scorers in the 4-1 FA Cup victory over Southampton.
Such was his impact and immense regard among supporters, his stint was recognised through nine player of the season awards in one campaign.
Moving on to the attacking midfield three – it has to be Jamal Lowe, Jed Wallace and Kal Naismith.
During two-and-a-half seasons on the south coast, Lowe developed from a talented non-league player into a goalscoring and highly-creative right winger, and last term was named in the PFA’s League One team of the season.
His goals from the bench at Notts County earned League Two promotion, while there was that memorable Checkatrade Trophy finish to invoke a deafening Wembley roar.
Wallace, another The News/Sports Mail Player of the Season recipient, returned from a loan spell with Concord Rangers to establish himself as a regular during two-and-a-half seasons.
The academy product scored an impressive 30 times from 121 appearances, demonstrating performances and a maturity which belied his years and, to date, turns out in the Championship with Millwall.
Completing the midfield trio is Naismith, whose sublime performances during the second half of the 2016-17 campaign contributed massively towards promotion.
Exiled to train with the youth team before the season’s start, the Scot returned to become Pompey’s talisman and top scorer, a skilful and swaggering presence who netted 10 goals in his final 20 appearances that term, including two in the title clincher against Cheltenham.
Finally, pinpointing a lone striker is difficult considering the Blues have largely been short of consistent scorers during the past decade.
However, nobody has scored more goals for the club than Brett Pitman in the 2010s. In fact, only Yakubu exceeds his tally of 40 since December 1998.
Although Pitman is no longer the first-team force he once was, his record is unmatched during the decade and deserves to be in this side.
As for the subs, try Stephen Henderson, Rocha, Joel Ward, Ben Thompson, David Norris, Frederic Piquionne and David Nugent.
Now here’s to the 2020s – and hopefully many more golden playing memories.