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Portsmouth: How John Mousinho's Blues finally ended their 12-season Championship exile

Portsmouth were promoted to the Sky Bet Championship after 12 seasons away with a 3-2 win over Barnsley on Tuesday night; Sky Bet League One Manager of the Year John Mousinho took over in January 2023 and has lost only eight of his 67 league games in charge

For more than a decade, Portsmouth have been sleeping giants.

Having dropped out of the Premier League in 2010, the club later suffered back-to-back relegations and, three years after being at English football's top table, they found themselves in League Two.

Eleven years later - after a 3-2 win over Barnsley at Fratton Park on Tuesday night - Pompey were promoted back to the Sky Bet Championship as champions, with League One Manager of the Year John Mousinho succeeding where others have failed in the past.

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Highlights of the Sky Bet League One match between Portsmouth and Barnsley

Here, we take a look at the story of how they finally got over the line.

Image: Portsmouth won the title after coming from behind to beat Barnsley 3-2 at Fratton Park

When Danny Cowley was sacked just two days into 2023, Portsmouth were spiralling.

They had been top, briefly, in August after a strong start, but from October 1 to January 14, they won one of their 13 league games and had dropped all the way to 12th, with a nine-point gap between themselves and the play-off places.

It was 18 days before the club appointed his successor, by which time they had lost to Bolton in both the league and the EFL Trophy, as well as having been knocked out of the FA Cup, despite a valiant effort away at Tottenham.

Also See:

So close, yet so far in the past

  • 2017/18 - 8th, five points outside play-offs
  • 2018/19 - 4th, lost in play-off semis
  • 2019/20 - 5th, lost in play-off semis
  • 2020/21 - 8th, two points outside play-offs
  • 2021/22 - 10th, 10 points outside play-offs
  • 2022/23 - 8th, seven points outside play-offs

On January 20, the club announced John Mousinho had been selected to become the club's new head coach.

He had never taken charge of a senior game of football and had still been registered as a player at Oxford United, where he played in what turned out to be his final game - an FA Cup first-round replay win at Woking - a mere 66 days prior.

In an interview with Sky Sports, even he admitted he was a "left-field" choice.

John Mousinho has overseen just eight league defeats since taking over in January 2023
Image: Mousinho has overseen just eight league defeats since taking over in January 2023

But just a day after he took charge for the first time, Pompey won their first league game in three months - a 2-0 home win over Exeter - and fears were eased. When they won five of the next nine, hopes of a late dash to the play-offs grew.

Ultimately, though defeats were almost extinguished completely, seven draws in the final 11 games meant they fell short. It was another season of frustration, but solid foundations had been laid.

"If that level of display from us is anything to go by, then I think the future is going to be extremely promising," said Mousinho after the final-day 2-2 draw with Wycombe last May.

"My message to all the boys would be, imagine what it will be like if and when we're really competing."

They didn't have to wait long at all to find out.

Four wins and four draws in their first eight took Portsmouth top of the league for the first time on September 19, with a further two wins from the final two games of the month earning Mousinho his first Manager of the Month award.

"Any psychologist will tell you it's worth having a long-term goal that's really vivid and you use that as motivation day-to-day," he said, speaking to Sky Sports after collecting the award.

"Once you have that, it can inspire you to work hard - but it is very much one game at a time for us."

The curse of a downturn in form afterwards did not strike and it was not until November 25 that a heavy 4-0 defeat at home to Blackpool brought a club record 27-game unbeaten league run to an abrupt end.

Marlon Pack has captained his hometown club to promotion out of League One
Image: Marlon Pack has captained his hometown club to promotion out of League One

Had they not have won the next four on the trot without conceding a goal, Christmas could have looked a lot more bleak, given they won just one of six between December 23 and January 13.

That time of year has been particularly haunting in years gone by; the last occasion a team was top of League One at Christmas and not promoted? Portsmouth in 2020. The time before that? Portsmouth in 2018.

Since then, they have held onto top spot with an iron grip.

That said, Mousinho has had to deal with his fair share of injuries along the way.

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Speaking in March, Mousinho discussed the Blues' sizeable list of absentees and how the club dealt with it internally

Summer signing Regan Poole was ruled out for the season with an ACL injury in November, while a similar fate befell young midfielder Alex Robertson - on loan from Man City - whose serious hamstring tear prevented him from playing any further part beyond New Year's Day.

In January, they reinforced with a loan move for Brentford's Myles Peart-Harris and permanent signings of Callum Lang, Owen Moxon, and Tom McIntyre.

McIntyre had a nightmare debut; he earned a red card for a rash challenge on Northampton's Mitch Pinnock - and broke his ankle in the process. To boot, Joe Morrell and Terry Devlin's campaigns were also ended early and the unfortunate Tom Lowery has been restricted to just eight appearances in blue.

But Pompey came through a tough period regardless, as so many top teams do.

Led by a man who enjoyed a long and successful playing career as a defender, flanked by assistant Jon Harley and first team development coach Zesh Rehman, it will come as little surprise they have the fourth-best defensive record in the Sky Bet EFL (39), behind only Leicester (38), Derby (37) and Leeds (34).

And while they have scored the second-lowest number of goals among the current top six in League One (75), Colby Bishop has starred up front again with 21 goals, which has put him in contention for the Golden Boot.

Portsmouth striker Colby Bishop is in the running for League One Golden Boot
Image: Portsmouth striker Colby Bishop is in the running for League One Golden Boot

Paddy Lane has scored 11 and assisted six more, while summer signing Kusini Yengi has proved his worth in his first season in English football, with 12 goals in 29 appearances in all competitions, despite having only started 11 times.

These efforts have taken Portsmouth past the 90-point mark for only the third time in their history. The first was in 1982/83, when they won Division Three with 91 points; the second was in 2002/03, when they won Division One with 98 points.

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Speaking in March, Portsmouth head coach John Mousinho discussed taking each game as it came after Sheffield Wednesday's failure to win automatic promotion last season

Still, Mousinho told Sky Sports in March he was was reluctant to set a target for how many points it might take for Portsmouth to get over the line.

Last Saturday, they had the chance to secure promotion with a win at Bolton, though a 1-1 draw at the Toughsheet meant they were forced to wait for what has, for quite some time, looked inevitable.

Now, they have done it. The pressure is no more. And they might even be able to set a new club record points total in the process.

The future is looking bright at Fratton Park. Portsmouth are back from the brink.

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