Big week ahead for Pompey
By Jo Carter
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Portsmouth face three tough games, with results crucial if they are to avoid the drop.
Premiership strugglers Portsmouth are looking for their fourth consecutive win to help them stay in the top flight for another season.
Harry Redknapp's return to Fratton Park, alongside the arrival of Alexandre Gaydamak's millions, has helped reinstate some pride into the club.
Redknapp's players are brimming with confidence; having won three games on the trot, the chance of Premiership survival is now an attainable target, rather than the distant dream that it was just a month ago.
Dejan Stefanovic, Richard Hughes and Benjani Mwaruwari have all put off surgery and played through the pain in an attempt to salvage Pompey's hopes of survival.
Full back Matthew Taylor has acknowledged a change of heart in the team.
"We are working 10 times harder as a team since Harry came back."
The former England Under-21 international was on the verge of being sold in January, but thanks to the arrival Gaydamak, he is still at the South Coast club.
Gaydamak injected £15 million into the club, giving Redknapp the freedom of a significantly bigger budget to work with.
The 59-year-old former West Ham manager, who is in his second spell at Fratton Park, swooped to sign nine players, three on loan.
Although it took a while for the refurbished squad to gel, the quality of the players is shining through just in time, and the team spirit is soaring.
On his return to Portsmouth, the man known as ÇÿHoudini' has won over the scepticism of the fans as he arrived from deadly rivals Southampton, and will be offered a new contract for next season, regardless of which division Pompey are playing in.
From a team that held little hope of survival; in three games they have turned their season around and are now favourites to relegate Midlands rivals West Brom and Birmingham.
On the back of three extraordinary wins against Manchester City, West Ham and Fulham, Portsmouth now look to make their home ground a fortress as they play three home games in eight days.
A game against Blackburn this weekend is followed by a rearranged match against Arsenal on Wednesday, and a home tie with Uefa Cup semi-finalists Middlesbrough next Saturday.
"They are tough games and we are certainly not out of the woods yet," said Taylor.
"But we are working with smiles on our faces and at last we are winning matches which gives a knock-on effect to your confidence.
"The manager has given us back a lot more belief in our ability. That is one of the qualities he brings to the table. As a group we have certainly become a lot closer. The camaraderie has definitely improved since Harry came back. It is still a working environment but the spirit is really high again now.
"The thing people have got to remember is that what the chairman [Milan Mandaric] did in bringing Harry back was the best thing for the club - in my opinion, anyway.
"Yes, he had to win some fans over again and although there are other people he also has to convince, I think it was a wonderful thing they started to sing his name again last week at Fulham."
Taylor has been a steadfast member of the Pompey team this season. He remains joint top scorer with Tresor Lomana Lua Lua and Gary O'Neil on five goals and has featured in every game since the end of September.
Zimbabwean record signing Benjani, who has not found the target in nine appearances, has told his manager that he is prepared to play despite medical advice that he requires surgery to repair torn knee cartilage.
Midfielder Hughes and captain Stefanovic have battled with their respective shoulder and ankle injuries to continue playing, while striker Svetoslav Todorov, who followed Redknapp from West Ham, has recovered from a lengthy injury to return to the side.
"It is typical of those players," Redknapp admitted, "Benjani wants to keep playing. He has a great attitude and he showed that when he played two matches in two days earlier this season flying back to us from the African Nations Cup."
Pompey's medical team have advised that they can see Benjani through the remaining seven games of the season, but Redknapp may still make changes for Saturday's game against Birmingham.
"We've had a few setbacks in training and I've got to see if certain lads are fit a bit nearer to kick-off time," he said. "We only have 18 players in the squad and we are facing three tough games in just over a week.
"Home advantage is important and we have got to make it like the fortress of old at Fratton Park this week but Blackburn have had a great season and their position in the table shows that.
"Mark Hughes [Blackburn manager] has done a very good job without even thinking about Arsene Wenger at Arsenal and Steve McClaren at Middlesbrough. There's no doubt it is a big, big week for us."