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What a difference eight months can make. When Manchester United went to Fratton Park in February, Portsmouth were in the middle of a run of eight games without a win.
Relegation seemed all but certain and their manager, Harry Redknapp, was generally despised: firstly for quitting and joining Pompey’s closest rivals, Southampton, and then for coming back at a time when the club was going downhill.
When Redknapp oversaw Southampton’s relegation, it was mischievously suggested he was still in Portsmouth’s employ. When he looked like taking Portsmouth down as well he had come to resemble one of those double-agents in a Len Deighton thriller who can no longer remember which side he is on.
Then came March. Manchester City were beaten, then West Ham, then Fulham. Portsmouth went on to win six games out of seven, and that form has continued this season. Their last 18 games have brought 38 points, a record that, if extrapolated over a season, would guarantee them Champions League football.
That perhaps is asking a bit much but there is no question now that the focus at Fratton Park has turned from avoiding relegation to qualifying for the Uefa Cup. Redknapp, usually so cautious, even dared mention the e-word last week: Europe.
When Alexandre Gaydamak first invested in the club in January, most people were deeply suspicious. Time will be a truer judge but so far this is looking like one of the most successful takeovers in football history.
There has been investment in players but it has been relatively modest. Benjani Mwaruwari, bought for £4.1m from Auxerre in January, remains the biggest signing, although that fact is rather disguised by the amused indulgence with which he is treated by Portsmouth fans. “He comes from Zimbabwe, he should have scored today,” they chanted last week as he was substituted against Reading having missed an open goal and two one-on-one chances.
Redknapp did his best to defend him, talking about his “honesty”, his “work-rate” and the intelligence of his runs behind defenders. When it came to a discussion of his finishing, though, he could only shake his head and chuckle wryly.
The point, though, is it doesn’t matter, because the rest of the team is scoring goals, helped by Mwaruwari’s energy.
Kanu may consider that he has at last found the perfect partner. The Nigerian is increasingly becoming a Prospero figure, a twinkling-footed sage controlling games from a withdrawn position. In two years at West Brom he managed seven goals. He has got that many in nine starts this season.
Kanu arrived on a free transfer, evidence of Redknapp’s acuity in the market. Sol Campbell, another free, has been transformed from the shambling defender of the tail end of his Arsenal career into the commanding presence he once was.
Redknapp has spoken of the sleepless nights of last year but those are past. Nobody is talking about double agents now.