For all the questionable decisions made by Portsmouth this season, two of them may yet turn out to be judicious. The performances of Jamie O'Hara and Frederic Piquionne have given the club cause for some welcome optimism. Yet the club's beleaguered support will be hoping they are not sacrificed by the administrator once things become clear on their future.
The pair, on loan from Tottenham and Lyon respectively, could be sent back to their clubs to help reduce the wage bill. What that will not do is improve Portsmouth's plight on the pitch.They were hugely influential in Saturday's 2-0 win against Birmingham that booked their place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Piquionne, the French striker, scored both goals while O'Hara provided artistry to complement his midfield aggression.
"Fred's a great finisher and he gives you something different," said O'Hara. "He's tall, but he can also get in behind. I've been playing just behind him recently and we're building up a little partnership. We bounce off each other which is good." With four goals in the last three games, Piquionne has started to show the form that saw him capped by France in 2007. Portsmouth will need more of that when they face Birmingham again tonight at Fratton Park with Premier League points the prize at stake this time. For the hosts, they mean just as much as a trip to Wembley.
With the outcome, and subsequent punishment, of their move into administration still to be confirmed, victory would put bottom club Portsmouth a point behind Burnley. The rest of their relegation rivals would be in sight, too. They include Sunderland, who meet Bolton Wanderers at the Stadium of Light. Steve Bruce, the Black Cats manager, left Birmingham in 2007 after six years for a bigger stage.
But it might be something he regrets as Birmingham have comfortably cemented their place in the top flight while Sunderland have continued to frustrate and fall below expectations. Bruce said confidence and a cool head was the key to improved league fortunes, but no wins in 14 does not convince. The reliance on Darren Bent, who has 16 goals, has been obvious. "When you're on a bad run like we've been on, it can sometimes seem like the end of the world," he said. "It's an important game, but Bolton are a side we've beaten once already and we were away from home when we did it. When we beat them last time we did it by doing two things: we matched them physically and we made sure we played our football when we could."
Bolton, though, will be thinking the same and are buoyed by the 2-1 win at West Ham on Saturday. The result did not reflect their dominance with Kevin Davies providing the performance that defenders find difficult to handle. Owen Coyle, his manager, said: "If I get performances of the standard of Kevin Davies here then that'll stand us in good stead and result in us winning games." @Email:email@example.com