LONDON, February 12 – Beleaguered, bedraggled and very possibly bankrupt by the end of next week: things could hardly get worse for Portsmouth at the moment.This weekend however brings the chance of relief in the form of an FA Cup last-16 meeting with arch rivals Southampton that is arguably the pick of the fifth round ties.
Nothing cheers a Pompey fan up more than beating the "Scummers" and, despite being rock bottom of the Premier League, the Fratton Park faithful will make the 17-mile trip along England’s south coast in confident mood ahead of Saturday’s lunchtime tie.
Southampton, themselves a top flight club as recently as 2005, are currently to be found residing in the middle of League One, the third tier of English football, although they would be close to the promotion play-off spots if they had not started the season with a ten-point penalty imposed for going into administration towards the end of last season.
That’s the kind of future that is currently haunting the dreams of most Portsmouth supporters and Southampton boss Alan Pardew will have no qualms about inflicting further trauma on them.
"We are very much aware of the pain they’re going through," Pardew said. "All the staff here have gone through it recently. I wasn’t at Southampton at that time but they suffered. I feel for Portsmouth, but there’ll be no sympathy from us on Saturday."
Chelsea will be without captain John Terry for the visit of 2008 runners-up Cardiff in another early kick-off on Saturday, a match that is being broadcast on the Football Association’s website, www.thefa.com.
Terry has been given the weekend off to visit his wife, who is holidaying in Dubai following the recent furore over the centreback’s alleged infidelity.
Cardiff boss Dave Jones believes the absence of Chelsea’s on-pitch leader will make little difference given the depth of resources at the holders’ disposal.
"We know they’ve got some fantastic players — not just some, their squad is littered with fantastic players," said Jones.
Cardiff are battling an injury crisis and have had a tough week off the pitch with the club embroiled, much like Portsmouth, in a fight to avoid entering administration.
Against that background, Jones welcomes the distraction of being hosted by the millionaires of west London. "It will be a great occasion for the club and if we play to our potential, we have a chance."
Nigel Clough, a 1991 finalist as a player in a Nottingham Forest side managed by his late father Brian, is hoping to lead Derby into the last eight at the expense of Birmingham.
Brian Clough famously never managed to get his hands on the revered old trophy but Clough jnr. insists that he is not motivated by thoughts of going one better than Dad.
"There’s far bigger issues than that, with the club and the 30,000 people we get turning up every week.
"It’s the fifth round and Derby have only been that far three times in the last ten years so it’s nice for the supporters to have a little cup run.
"It’s a great draw for us too; if we can get a full strength side out and get the crowd behind us, we’ve got a chance. A slim one, but a chance."
Saturday also sees Manchester City, the second favourites to lift the Cup following the exit of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United at earlier stages, entertain Stoke. The only other all-Premier League tie is on Sunday, when Bolton host Tottenham.
Reading, the side responsible for Liverpool’s demise, meet Championship leaders West Brom.
Notts County, the only side from League Two (the old fourth division) left in the competition and yet another club facing financial meltdown, travel to Fulham on Sunday aiming to repeat the giant-killing heroics that saw them eliminate Wigan in the last round.
Arguably the best chance of a fifth round upset is at Crystal Palace, the conquerors of Wolves in the last round, who entertain Aston Villa.
FA Cup Fifth Round Fixtures
Chelsea v Cardiff City (1200 GMT), Southampton v Portsmouth (1230 GMT), Derby v Birmingham, Reading v West Brom (both 1500 GMT), Manchester City v Stoke (1715 GMT)
Bolton v Tottenham (1330 GMT), Fulham v Notts County (1500 GMT), Crystal Palace v Aston Villa (1545 GMT)