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Fulham-Portsmouth Preview


STATS European Football Writer

(AP) -- LONDON (SE)- Paul Hart has predicted Portsmouth and Fulham will be among 15 teams involved in the Premier League relegation battle ahead of the two side's season opener at Fratton Park on Saturday.

Hart claims only the so-called 'Big Four' Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool plus big-spending Manchester City are safe from the threat of the drop.

The Portsmouth manager believes his side have enough quality to survive despite being forced to sell England duo Glen Johnson and Peter Crouch and releasing ten other players, including captain Sol Campbell, because of the club's money woes.

Hart said: "My view on what happens this season has not changed since May.

"It is going to be an extremely tough season for us, but there are another 15 teams who are also going to find it tough.

"The gap between the teams at the top and those at the bottom is growing every year and it will be very difficult for the three promoted teams to compete.

"You only have to look at the teams that have been relegated over the years, the likes of Charlton and Norwich, to see how unforgiving the Premier League can be.

"The challenge I have set the players is to show fighting spirit and character. I will be telling them it is going to be a battle and we have to fight for each other and for the team."

Pompey have endured a turbulent summer of big-name departures and financial uncertainty and with prospective new owner Sulaiman Al Fahim yet to complete his takeover face becoming the first Premier League team to go into administration.

Hart will hand debuts to Belgium international Anthony Vanden Borre and French striker Frederic Piquionne, both on loan, and former Blackburn midfielder Aaron Mokoena.

Hart added: "We have lost some players but we have got some new faces and I am confident the people we have brought in will be up for the challenge.

"We have got to look at where we are going and not dwell on what could be perceived as the negatives.

"Obviously it is in the best interests of the football club to get the takeover completed but as far as I am concerned I am focusing on the football side.

"It will not affect the players one iota."

Defender Brade Hangeland has given Fulham a pre-match boost by playing down speculation linking him with a move to Arsenal.

Norwegian international Hangeland was one of the discoveries of last season after being plucked by Roy Hodgson from Copenhagen.

Hangeland, rumoured to be a 15 million pounds target for the Gunners, said: "At the moment it is just something written in the newspapers and I am not too worried about it.

"There is nothing to suggest otherwise for me so at the moment I am preparing for the game at Portsmouth.

"At the moment I play for Fulham and I am very happy about that."

Fulham new signings Stephen Kelly and Bjorn Helge Riise are both in contention to start.

Updated August 13, 2009

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