Quarter of century on from one of the great Pompey sides
A quarter of a century ago this week Cambridge United provided the opposition for Pompey.
A 1-0 win at the Abbey Stadium, courtesy of a Gary Clayton own goal in front of a crowd of 5,975, is unlikely to be found anywhere in the Fratton annals.
The fact it extended a winning run which would stretch to 11 victories from 12 will resonate with all Pompey fans around at that time, however.
That’s because Jim Smith’s boys of ‘93 were one of the best side’s this club ever produced. And that was witnessed in all its glory that halcyon spring.
It may have been 12 months previously when the Blues plugged themselves into the national consciousness with that never-to-be-forgotten run to the FA Cup semi-finals. But the men who undertook the charge to the brink of making it to the embryonic Premiership the following season are also hard-wired into Fratton folklore.
And for many a wise Blues fans’ pennies it was Smith’s Pompey Mk II who were the superior side of their predecessors.
That’s despite losing the jewel in the crown of their Cup run, as Darren Anderton made his way Spurs in a £1.7m deal after the big boys came knocking for the exciting young winger.
The departure of John Beresford, seemingly for Liverpool, but eventually to Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle, suggested the break-up of Smith’s fledgling saplings.
Similarly, Martin Kuhl joining rivals Derby for £650,000 spoke of a lack of ambition to supporters, with Bjorn Kristensen, Paul Hall, Chris Price and George Lawrence, from non-league Weymouth, all recruited on the relative cheap through the campaign.
It was the lone summer arrival, though, who took the team to a level we reflect on so fondly 25 years on.
Guy Whittingham still has a case to wonder quite how his record-breaking 49 goals didn’t return player-of-the-year honours, with Billy ‘Farmer’ Haines’ 66-year best smashed. Paul Walsh, of course, was the reason for that – a player regarded among the most talented to have worn royal blue in any era.
A blend of mercurial artistry, work ethic and professionalism lifted the quality level of the side and raised the bar for his team-mates. For the paying punters, though, the arrival from Spurs was simply a joy to watch – and beyond anything they’d witnessed for many a long year.
These pages trumpeted the team’s talent 13 months ago, when some online meandering saw these eyes happen upon Pompey’s 1992-93 season review. The glaring conclusion back then was the footage emphatically debunked the myth players from yesteryear couldn’t survive in today’s game.
All the arguments about developments in sports science along with superior tactical and technical detail were rendered meaningless, in the face of a 90-minute reminder of just how good that Blues side was.
Whittingham’s opening-day hat-trick at Bristol City, as he outfired a certain Andy Cole, served notice of the ying-and-yang potential of his partnership with Walsh. That was the aperitif to a run of two defeats in 13 games before Christmas to put Smith’s men in the play-off hunt.
Still, as the cold made way for the daffodils sprouting, Pompey found themselves nine points off a West Ham side ensconced in the second promotion berth. The Cambridge victory was the third success of their winning run, to leave them fourth in the Barclays Division One table.
A further three maximums on the bounce saw the Hammers’ advantage wiped out entirely, before a draw at Millwall was the precursor to another five wins. The final of those saw 23,073 cram into Fratton Park to witness Wolves dispatched 2-0 and Pompey go top for 24 hours.
The sun was out, Bluebells’ Young at Heart was number one in the charts and the visionary Parkway Stadium plan at Farlington was announced the same week. Life was good.
Walsh and Whittingham scything through Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day is the goal from the 1992-93 campaign which is recounted most fondly today.
But to reacquaint yourself with the campaign is to be reminded of the bevy of moments of quality to contend with it.
Alan McLoughlin’s chip on home soil against Oxford and Whittingham’s charge of endeavour, which left Luton in his wake at the start of the end-of-season winning run, are just a couple.
The imperious partnership of Kit Symons and Andy Awford remains one of the very finest defensive pairings this club has witnessed, with Guy Butters the third central defender for much of the adrenalin-drenched finale. They contributed to Alan Knight’s 589-minute run without conceding through March and April, a highlight of an ever-present season
McLoughlin, along with Whittingham as the other player to start every game, was the metronomic presence who made his team tick in the middle of the park. But to ignore the classy contributions of Mark Chamberlain and the work of Ray Daniel, who did so well making 40 appearances and filling Beresford’s boots, would be to dismiss other key components of a winning formula.
We know all too well how a single goal, in a season where goals scored was favoured over goal difference, proved the difference as Pompey finished on the same 88-point total as West Ham. And we need not linger on how the footballing gods conspired against Smith’s heroes in the shape of Ian Ormondroyd’s criminally offside goal for Leicester in the play-offs.
Because this is a team who stand alongside all of the greats in a proud club’s 119-year history. And, 25 years on, that truth remains as apparent as ever.