Premier League Preview: Portsmouth vs. Hull City
Fratton Park, Portsmouth, England
Saturday, March 20, 2010, 15:00GMT
The Tigers sail into Pompey on the back of some major changes for both clubs. When the teams met last time at Hull City's KC Stadium, Phil Brown was in charge of the Tigers, and Paul Hart was Portsmouth's manager.
Since that nil-nil bore draw, both clubs have changed their managers with Avram Grant— the talented ex-Chelsea manager—now in charge at Fratton Park, and Iain Dowie just installed as the Tigers new manager.
Pompey has also had the huge impact of a nine-point deduction for going into administration, leaving them 14 points adrift of the rest of the Premiership teams sitting at the bottom of the division.
The trip to Hampshire is the first game at the helm for Dowie, who will have to motivate a team that has a decimated defense, and hasn't won a game in four outings.
On the road, things are even worse for the toothless Tigers. The Tigers have only managed to amass four points so far this season when away from the KC Stadium, and that's without a win as well.
On the plus side for Dowie, the Tigers have seen the return of Jimmy Bullard to the fold. He helped to inspire a purple patch when he returned to fitness in November, and over the span of four games, helped his team win eight points from a possible 12.
Things aren't much better for Grant. Pompey has not won in the Premiership at home since mid-December when it beat Liverpool 2-0. However, the famous old South Coast club has been winning well at Fratton Park in the F.A. Cup.
Grant told the Daily Mirror newspaper about the club's player meeting that would be held prior to this weekend's fixture: "It will be a democratic meeting, but we will go with my decision in the end—I cannot say what my team will be.
"What we do next I will tell you after I have spoken to the players. I want to know what their opinions are from what we do from now on.
"We do not have a duty to the other clubs in the Premier League. The Premier League has a duty to those clubs but we only have a duty to ourselves.
"I think the Premier League are embarrassed by Portsmouth, but I think they need to check the rules about who can buy a club and who cannot.
"The writing was on the wall a long time ago and for me it is a sad day. It is a sad day for Portsmouth Football Club and for the Premier League.
"The Premier League is the best league in the world, but for the first time in its history a football decision has been made not on the pitch but in some office.
"This is wrong, this is not good. I said we would fight against everything as long as we had a chance, now I do not know.
"All the time that we believed we could stay up we had something to fight for, and it is always easier when you have a target to aim for.
"Our target now is the semifinal and I am trying to win that."
Will Portsmouth field a weakened side with one eye on the upcoming F.A. Cup semifinal, or will Grant's players feel the need to show some team unity for a club that have shown no unity toward it's players?
Grant also has the headache of a late fitness test for David James, who has a calf injury; Kevin Prince-Boateng (ankle); Hassan Yebda (knee); and John Utaka (groin). He may decide to save his stars for the Cup clash against Fulham or Tottenham Hotspur next month.
Dowie put his new charges through their paces for the first time this week, after his appointment on Wednesday. Unfortunately for Dowie, he is without the services of inspirational skipper, Ian Ashbee, who is still out with a long-term knee injury.
Ashbee is joined by two others: Tigers centre back Anthony Gardner (ankle), and Kamil Zayette, who was involved in a crunching tackle with Arsenal's Sol Campbell last week in the Tigers' unlucky injury-time loss to the Gunners.
Dowie will also be without the services of George Boateng. Boateng was issued a red card for a horrendous challenge on Bacary Sanga of the Gunners.
On a positive note, the Tigers' top scorer Stephen Hunt—who has been out with a foot injury—may be ready to make his return to the first team.
The Tiger nation will be watching in anticipation just to see how Iain Dowie's team will perform. His initial interviews have been the right mix of caution and positivity, but until his Tigers cross the line at Fratton Park, we will have to see if they have bounce-back-ability.
For Pompey's long-suffering fans, the outcome of that player meeting will have a bearing on which Pompey team takes the field in a forlorn hope of Premiership survival.