Sunday, April 11, 2010
Pompey paupers enjoy riches of success
Dale Johnson, Wembley
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". Seldom do you find Charles Dickens referenced on these pages but the opening of A Tale of Two Cities sums up Portsmouth's roller coaster of a season perfectly.
"It was the season of Light," added Dickens. "It was the season of Darkness." This was supposed to be the last chapter in a horror story for a club which will be playing Championship football next season, with an uncertain future further ahead. Now they will have to save a few pages for the FA Cup Final of 2010.The Pompey fans were celebrating long after the final whistle, lapping up every last moment of what was an unexpected victory. They will look to that underdogs' tag once again in five weeks' time when they return to face Chelsea.Just what kind of team will walk out on May 15 is open to question. Up to six players are said to be unable to play for the club again with payment clauses being invoked if they make another appearance. One of those, Aruna Didane, had not played for Pompey for a month as they saved his final appearance for this game.Administrator Andrew Andronikou has stated he hopes to reach agreements with both the players and the affected clubs - Lens will be owed £4 million if Dindane plays another match. Andronikou also said that this would be the last time this team would ever play together. For the sake of what is supposed to be English football's showpiece occasion it has to be hoped he reaches agreements over such contractual problems.If familiarity breeds contempt, then Portsmouth should probably despise Tottenham Hotspur. Jermain Defoe and Niko Kranjcar were both booed with every touch of the ball. Peter Crouch - who had insisted he would not celebrate if he scored - was the only ex-Pompey player saved from the ritualistic jeers. The fans took great delight in barracking former boss Harry Redknapp during the post-match celebrations. "Harry what's the score," they sang. They've never forgiven Redknapp for walking out and heading for Tottenham 18 months ago, and, in their view, aware of the implosion which lay ahead.In truth, they will never forget the FA Cup success of 2008 and the heady days of life in the top half of the Premier League table, even if it was unsustainable. The FA Cup Final will serve as the perfect bookend to a sorry demise. It was the competition which many feel was the beginning of their financial collapse. And now the circle will be complete.For Tottenham, further challenges lie ahead with the Premier League's top three up next back-to-back. They start with the north London derby against Arsenal at White Hart Lane on Wednesday. After Manchester City's victory over Birmingham a failure to beat the Gunners could leave Spurs with just Europa League qualification to toast. There will be no virus to blame this time, purely the deficiencies of an expensively-assembled squad.Spurs will surely have plenty of complaint about this dog of a pitch, which resembles an ice rink with players slipping to the ground constantly. After three years back at this famous old location there appears to be no end in sight to the pitch problems. Michael Dawson, such an inspirational figure as Spurs' captain all season, was the player to suffer the slip which may have ultimately decided this semi-final. A victim of Wembley's infamously uneven surface, he lost his footing right in front of goal in the 99th minute, and the energetic Frederic Piquionne could not fail to slot past Heurelho Gomes.Tottenham started the match much the stronger and Defoe should have broken the deadlock in the opening exchanges, but his close-range effort was blocked. The resulting corner led to Portsmouth's first real foray into the opposition's half, as Piquionne ran virtually the full length of the pitch culminating in a shot which was deflected into the grateful arms of Gomes.It was a game-changing moment. A previously nervous-looking Portsmouth were sparked into life. Finally they had some belief that they could compete.Both Dindane and Piquionne had half chances to open the scoring before Kevin-Prince Boateng - another to walk the path between these two clubs - fired a free-kick wide.Piquionne was a livewire throughout, and he should have put the south-coast club in front when through on goal. Dindane would have been perfectly placed to smash home the rebound but the ever-reliable Wembley pitch gave way as he shaped to shoot.Pompey continued to look the more interested side. Dindane strolled purposefully down the right flank before chipping a perfect ball into the path of Piquionne, who could only nod into the arms of Gomes.Gareth Bale's energy and direct running was the only real bright spot for Spurs, who were losing their way until the wasteful Defoe was replaced by Roman Pavlyuchenko. Pompey fans cheered ironically; it was not the final time they would have the last laugh.Spurs desperately needed to change things, and just minutes after the fans had finally found their voices by calling for the introduction of Pavlyuchenko the in-form Russian striker came on for Defoe. Pavlyuchenko's entrance almost instantly resulted in Spurs' play picking up, and again Crouch was the guilty party as he sent a free header wide when James found himself in no man's land following a corner.The game had turned full circle again. Now Spurs were on top and as Pompey's legs visibly tired there appeared to be only one winner.
Bale continued to search for the head of Crouch, and he headed against the outside of the post from what appeared to be an impossible angle.
Portsmouth held on and started extra-time with renewed vigour, the break bringing much-needed time to recuperate. And it was Piquionne who finally broke the deadlock, enabling the stadium announcer to finally get his name right at the fourth attempt after a weird and wonderful collection of attempted pronunciations.Spurs should have been level immediately. A superb turn by Bale left him clear to stand a ball up into the centre of the box. James jumped into Kranjcar in trying to claim which left Crouch to hook in the equaliser. But Kranjcar was inexplicably adjudged to have fouled the goalkeeper when, if anything, James was the offender.The game was over in the 117thminute when Dindane had his heels clipped by the chasing Wilson Palacios, and Boateng duly stepped up to smash the spot-kick into the bottom right-hand corner.For Portsmouth there may be a long and hard road ahead, but they may have at least some feeling of achievement after an arduous campaign. For Spurs, it looks like "what might have being" yet again.MAN OF THE MATCH: Ricardo Rocha - A figure of fun during his Tottenham days and a laughing stock in his early, red card performances on the south coast, Rocha was a rock at the heart of the Portsmouth defence as Tottenham's aerial assault came in from all angles. Frederic Piquionne's tireless running and poacher's finish came a close second.PORSMOUTH VERDICT: Written off by everyone and spoken of only as an afterthought in relation to next month's final, Avram Grant will have enhanced both his reputation and his cult status by pulling off the improbable with a display full of character, guts and determination. They couldn't do it again, could they?TOTTENHAM VERDICT: For all their talent and the spells of domination they enjoyed at Wembley, seldom was David James' goal ever besieged. They may be quick to blame the pitch, but a failure to break down a defence destined for the Championship may point to deeper problems.PITCH IMPERFECT PART 2: During Saturday's slip-slide display it was a surprise that this disgraceful surface did not result in a match-changing incident. Tottenham were not so lucky. With the Champions League final here in 12 months' time UEFA will surely be looking on with trepidation.