The most recent month of the English Championship season has seen a much resurgent Portsmouth FC, keen to prove the doubters wrong.
Relegated from the English Premier League last season following a much talked about financial collapse, the outlook for this season was strangely uncertain from the outset.
Would the club, still in administration and with a thin playing squad, be able to avoid a second consecutive relegation? Or were the "Premier League" quality players who remained with the side going to ensure a quick return to England's footballing elite?
A 2-1 loss this weekend to a resurgent Bristol City put a halt to a run of six consecutive league wins and six consecutive league clean sheets.
But with safety from relegation this season all but secured and many suggesting a late push for the play-off places still on the cards, what needs to be done in order to see the team return to the Premier League?
Current Portsmouth owner and Hong Kong based businessman, Balram Chainrai
The most obvious of the issues that needs to be addressed, the ownership situation on the South Coast has not been ideal for any party involved.
Balram Chainrai, the current owner of Portsmouth, took control of the club from former owner Ali al-Faraj at the end of 2009. Chainrai, a completely reluctant owner, had loaned al-Faraj funds with his investment secured against the then-Premier League side.
Unable to find an owner and with debts spiraling out of control, Chainrai is also the man who put Portsmouth into administration in February 2010. Following the club's exist from administration in October, Chainrai again became the owner of the club in an attempt to "secure his investments" while a new owner could be sought. He has made it clear from the beginning, however, that he has had no desire to own a football club.
The club's supporters, too, have largely made it known that they have no desire to see Chainrai remain as the owner of the club. Demonstrations by the group "SOS Pompey," and regular songs from the stands that "Portsmouth Football Club is in the wrong hands" have already proven that.
Most importantly, though, is that with Chainrai remaining as the owner of the club, funds to purchase new players will always remain extremely limited.
In recent interviews with the media, Chainrai and Portsmouth Chief Executive David Lampitt have claimed that a number of parties are currently interested in purchasing the club.
Without new ownership for the club in the near future and the longer Chainrai remains, the less likely the club will return to the Premier League.
Since the start of the Championship season, a number of managers have claimed that Portsmouth still have Premier League quality players that give them a great edge over anyone the side play.
While it is true that certain players within the Portsmouth squad could perform well at Premier League level, manager Steve Cotterill was quick to dismiss these attacks on the Pompey squad as other managers making excuses if their team lost.
The reality, of course, is that Portsmouth have only been able to field a full match-day squad—11 starting players and 7 substitutes—on a handful of occasions all season.
Without funds available to pay transfer fees and a rigid wage-structure in place, bringing players into the side has been extremely difficult.
Add to this the inability to select midfielders Michael Brown and Richard Hughes because of contract disputes, long-term injuries to striker Danny Weber and Hermann Hreidarsson (now fit), and the inevitable fitness problems that a long season and a small squad bring about, the current Portsmouth side couldn't realistically compete in the Premier League. At least, not as it currently exists.
Shrewd loan signing by Cotterill have managed to alleviate some of this stress, but the fact remains that Portsmouth need to increase the availability of proper players (not youth players from the academy) in the first team if they are to compete at a high level.
Jonathan Hogg (Center, Left) is on loan to Portsmouth from Premier League side Aston Villa
Portsmouth manager Steve Cotterill has spent the entire season as a man with one hand tied behind his back.
First, there was the transfer embargo in place for the first half of the season while the club remained in administration. Once out of administration there was, of course, the issue that there simply wasn't any money available to buy anyone.
The ability for Cotterill to field a strong and competitive side has been extremely difficult, but vast majority of signings he has made—particularly the loan signings—are proving to be excellent pieces of business.
Greg Halford (Wolves), Ritchie de Laet (Manchester United), Jonathan Hogg (pictured, Aston Villa) and David Cotterill (Swansea) have bedded into the team fantastically well despite their youth. Most importantly, these signings have had a huge impact on the recent upturn in form the club has seen.
While the signing of Carl Dickinson and Ibrahima Sonko (Stoke) have not had quite the same impact, both players have played important roles in the side in the early part of the season that ensured Portsmouth weren't cut adrift in the relegation zone early on.
Even if a new owner purchases Portsmouth in the near future, Cotterill is proving that loan signings at the Championship level can prove fantastically useful under the right management. And most importantly, they add depth and a competitive edge to the squad without spending the club's minimal money.
Portsmouth would do well to continue to use loan players if they are to push for promotion in the future.
David Nugent has proven a vital player this season for Portsmouth, but his contract expires this summer
Loan signings have proven vital for Portsmouth this season, but a squad simply can't be built on them alone. The few players that Portsmouth still own could play a vital role in a future promotion push, but only if the club works to hold on to them rather than the sell of their assets to recoup money.
Liam Lawrence and Dave Kitson were both brought in from Stoke this summer in exchange for the sale of Portsmouth youth-product Marc Wilson. While Kitson has seemed low on confidence at times this season, Lawrence has already proven how fantastic a purchase he was. Despite only arriving at the beginning of this season, however, he is constantly being linked with a move away.
Striker David Nugent, who has already scored 11 goals this term, is out of contract this summer and is attracting a great amount of attention. Having cost the club some £6 million pounds when he was bought, there is a distinct possibility that he may leave the club for nothing at all.
Finally, there is young star Joel Ward, who has made the jump from youth team to first team starter in spectacular fashion. Solid and growing in confidence with every match he plays, he could have an extremely bright future at the club—if he isn't sold off too quickly.
Even though he's recently signed a new deal, Portsmouth sold Glen Johnson to Liverpool shortly after signing a new deal with the club.
Cotterill—and the club's board—need to do everything they can to hold on to these players if a return to the Premier League is the aim.
Winger John Utaka (left), who had an extremely mixed spell with Portsmouth, was sold to Montpellier in the winter transfer window
When John Utaka was sold to Montpellier in the January transfer window, there weren't many Portsmouth supporters who were terribly sorry to see him go. Realistically, however, he had been performing fairly well in the Championship this season, and his departure immediately brought a problem with the squad forward.
When Utaka first left, Portsmouth had to rely on Liam Lawrence as the only proper winger still at the club, and it was extremely visible. The team was lacking the width that creates chances, and the aggression that goes along with it.
David Cotterill's arrival has done very well to address this issue temporarily, but it is something which needs to be addressed properly by manager Steve Cotterill during the next transfer window.
Liam Lawrence has been the driving creative force at Portsmouth this season
Along with the width in the current squad, the creativity within the team is something which also needs to be addressed before promotion can be achieved.
Liam Lawrence (notice a pattern here?) has proven to be an inspiration for the team since his arrival, and the clear creative spark in the squad in the same mold that Niko Kranjcar and Matty Taylor had been in past Portsmouth teams.
The problem, however, has been emphasized by his absence in the side since the February match against Barnsley: who else in the current team can play that creative role?
While Portsmouth have been fortunate to be on an excellent run of form without Lawrence, three of the last four matches—against Bristol City, Sheffield United and Ipswich—have seen the side penned back for large portions of the game and crying out for more creativity.
Greg Halford has looked like a reasonable option at times, but his recent use in the heart of defense has offered him much less of an opportunity to step up.
Even when Richard Hughes and Michael Brown were available for selection, it could be argued Portsmouth had one of the least creative midfields in the Championship. The creativity of the team can't all be placed upon the shoulders of Lawrence—and Cotterill should look to address that with future signings.
Along with the issues of ownership that has plagued Portsmouth over the last two seasons is the equally important issue of stability.
Supporters were still forced to contemplate what the future for the club might hold for the entire first half of the season, as liquidation still loomed large as a very real and possible threat.
With the potential liquidation of the club seemingly a dead-issue and with the club now performing well, the most important thing Portsmouth supporters can wish for right now is stability.
Namely, the stability necessary to promote a return to the Premier League, if that is the goal.
The ownership issue needs to be settled, and the manager needs to be given the full support of the board if he is expected to bring success at this level.
Clubs which have far more stable ownership than Portsmouth—West Brom, Middlesbrough, Wolves and plenty of others—have seen recent relegation (or the threat of it) in the last few season despite that stability. What chance could Portsmouth possibly have if they don't even have that foundation to build upon?