Crewe Alexandra v Portsmouth: Railwaymen wary for Gresty Road clash, despite poor Pompey record
PORTSMOUTH are edging their way towards a record-breaking campaign – unfortunately, they are achieving landmarks the club do not want.
Tomorrow's visitors to Gresty Road (3pm) have used 51 players so far this term, a record only bettered by a non-competitive team during World War One who fielded more than 80 men.
Pompey are also in the midst of a club-worst sequence of 23 games and four months without a win, breezing past the previous mark of 19 games.
That sorry run includes a club record nine consecutive defeats as Guy Whittingham's side hurtle towards relegation ... yet it could still be worse.
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If the 2008 FA Cup-winners do not exit administration before the end of the season they will not be demoted just one division for finishing in the bottom four, it will be two.
So as things stand, Portsmouth are Conference-bound unless a court date at the end of April can finally resolve their ownership crisis.
For all that, a 1-1 draw against MK Dons on Tuesday night saw Portsmouth take the lead in a match for the first time since Boxing Day.
And an increasingly young side have ground out points in three of their last four games, even if they are still 12 points away from safety with just 11 games to go.
It should all make interesting scouting for Crewe, who go into the game on the back of a 3-0 defeat to Hartlepool, the team nearest to Portsmouth at the wrong end of the table.
Only two players will line-up tomorrow from the 11 who beat the Alex 2-0 in October.
Crewe assistant boss Neil Baker said: "There has been a big turnaround of players, but we watched their last one or two matches so we know what we're up against.
"We got bullied at Portsmouth and it's our job to make sure that doesn't happen again.
"It's a tough game in that they are another club, like Hartlepool, who are fighting for their lives.
"They are not winning games, but they are not losing by many goals either.
"They are getting points through good defensive displays and hard work, and that in itself presents problems."
Centre-back Gabor Gyepes and midfielder Johannes Ertl are the two Pompey players left from the reverse fixture.
Whittingham has needed to put faith in youth team graduates like defenders Dan Butler and Adam Webster, midfielder Jed Wallace and forward Ashley Harris.
Other juniors including Alex Grant, George Colson, Elliot Wheeler and Dan Thompson, have been told they will have a chance to be chucked in at the deep end, too.
But continuing with that long-term thinking could prove tricky as it emerged this week that vultures are circling on the south coast.
Chelsea and Spurs are among Premier League clubs expected to try to take advantage of Portsmouth's woes by opening their own academy development centres in the city.
"Anyone can pitch up where they want if they are a category one club," said Portsmouth's youth chief Andy Awford.
"It's the big boys getting their own way again and I'm not happy about it."
Still, Portsmouth quickly sold out an initial allocation of 280 tickets for Gresty Road, with more of their fans expected to pay on the gate.
Whittingham has made them one promise. He said: "We have always said we will remain competitive, for our fans as much as anything else. They want to see a Portsmouth side put up a fight and we are consistently doing that now."
He added: "Crewe have got a couple of threats. Pogba is probably their main one.
"We know they are going to pass and move the ball quickly, so we have to be disciplined, we have to be patient but most of all, we have to work hard."