THE promotion race to the Championship is now wide open as the Reds head into their final eight games of the season. Over the next few hours we’ll feature the views of other football reporters on their team’s chances. First up are league leaders Portsmouth and Derby County.



What’s left: Derby (H), Shrewsbury (H), Bolton (A), Barnsley (H), Wigan (H), Lincoln (A).

How it started: There was a bit of a stir before the campaign started when head coach John Mousinho neglected to mention the word ‘promotion’ among club goals during the traditional Radio Solent fans’ forum. Some took that as proof that the club lacked ambition and the club had to move to clarify.

Certainly, Pompey expected a play-off challenge, but stopped short of publicly targeting the automatics. What has subsequently unfolded has far exceeded that. Since September 19, they have occupied League One’s top spot for all but one week. Understandably, expectations have long since been adjusted.

How it’s going: Pompey have an unfortunate League One habit of imploding at Christmas. Well, it appeared history was repeating itself after collecting just five points from six matches during the festive period and heading into the New Year. That included defeats to Leyton Orient and Cheltenham.

However, since the home loss to Orient on January 13, described by Mousinho as his lowest point of the season, the Blues have bounced back with an unbeaten 12-match run, consisting of nine wins and three draws.

No League One side has picked up as many points during that period, while 18 clean sheets in total reflects the best defensive record in the division.

And not even recognition as February Manager of the Month has put Mousinho’s men out of their stride - definitely going against tradition.

Gut feeling: Saturday’s 1-0 victory at Peterborough is, without question, regarded as the season’s pivotal result so far. It ended six straight wins for the Posh but, more importantly, means Pompey are now nine points clear of third place in the automatic promotion spots, with seven matches remaining.

That represents the moment when Pompey fans started believing this finally can be the year when they leave League One. There has been plenty of heartache along the way, including twice leading the league at Christmas and not even getting into the play-off final.

Now, after seven seasons at this level, the Blues are on the verge of returning to the Championship for the first time since 2012.

Star and saviour: Marlon Pack is on the verge of a dream season. A former Pompey season-ticket holder who was released at the age of 19, he has returned to skipper the side. Not only that, but he’ll comfortably be in the top two for most fans’ player of the season.

The central midfielder has been a revelation this term. A natural leader, the driving force, and heartbeat of this team, he remains a massively important performer and arguably the one player that cannot be replaced in a season when the squad has been devastated by injury.

Worry lines: It has to be injuries! By February 2, Pompey had lost six players for the remainder of the season, including three of their best performers - Joe Morrell, Alex Robertson and Regan Poole.

When they won at Peterborough on Saturday, they did so without 14 players through illness and injury. Then Christian Saydee came off with a hamstring problem during the match! The previous Saturday, two players went off injured in the second half of a goalless draw at Blackpool.

It is truly remarkable that Pompey continue to lead the table considering they have suffered so many injury setbacks throughout the campaign.



What’s left: Blackpool (H), Portsmouth (A), Wycombe (A), Leyton Orient (H), Cambridge Utd (A), Carlisle (H).

How it started: After the heartbreak of missing out on the top six on the final day of last season at Sheffield Wednesday, everybody expected Derby to strengthen significantly during the window that would help propel them one step further. The start to the season wasn’t the greatest and the defeat to Stevenage was undoubtedly the nadir, but since then they haven’t looked back.

How it’s going: With Derby not on the international break, they have a chance to make it five wins on the spin that would give them some considerable daylight in the chase for the top two. I don’t think anybody would dispute that Derby have not been vintage in terms of their quality this season, but they have been so consistent and very difficult to score against. As the old adage goes, good attacks win you games, good defences win you titles.

Gut feeling: Well, I don’t see any team winning their last seven games on the spin that is for sure. Pompey have got a tough run-in and I can see them perhaps being dragged into it. As for Derby, their run-in bar Portsmouth away is actually not bad. They’ve not given up for the chase of the title, but a lot of things would need to go right for them as there are seven injuries at the moment. The experienced players will be vital to ensure they stay in the top two.

Star and saviour: The centre-backs have been incredible and Eiran Cashin and Curtis Nelson are both serious contenders for the players of the season. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing has also been terrific and for me, is the best winger in the league.

Worry lines: Injuries. Derby have had their fair share and they keep on coming. Losing Dwight Gayle has been a huge blow. It has left them with two strikers in Martyn Waghorn and Conor Washington and they’ve only just come back from injury. And Derby do have the oldest squad in the league.