POMPEY 2010 REWIND: Part two
By Site reporter
Tuesday 28 Dec 2010 13:56:00
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It's time for the second part in our week-long look back at the high spots of Pompey's year. Where else could we turn to for this instalment, than Wembley, April 11, and Redknapp's Spurs 0 Grant's Pompey 2...

 

At the start of the season, someone in the national press brilliantly described Pompey as a team who looked like they had got dressed in the dark but were determined to go to the party and enjoy it.

Well, eight months on, the party is still going strong – and the chaotically-dressed guest is nothing short of the life and soul of that party. Pompey are the team they just can’t shut up.

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Many regarded their fourth trip to Wembley in two years as a day when victory was highly unlikely and everyone just needed to enjoy themselves and show the watching world that PFC was still alive and kicking.

And everyone did enjoy themselves and demonstrate just that – but the blue and white hordes coming out of Wembley afterwards were smiling not just because they had made it the day of celebration it needed to be, but because they had just seen their team beat some of the football figures they have come to dislike the most, and in the process earn a return trip to the Arch for a final against Chelsea in five weeks’ time.

When the draw paired Pompey with Spurs or Fulham, opinion was divided. Those who wanted Spurs knew they were the tougher opponents of the two possibles but felt it was too good an opportunity for revenge to miss. So when Spurs overcame Fulham to ensure it was they who stood in the way of Pompey’s second final in three years, feelings remained mixed. A great chance of a sweet, sweet day – but a big chance of defeat.

And so those thoughts remained right up until the game itself was under way. Few neutrals gave Pompey a hope – Jeff Stelling’s assertion that Tottenham could do Pompey ‘some damage’ and would win about 4-0 was fairly typical of the pundits’ predictions.

But there were plenty of Blues fans who headed to the capital thinking that such an outcome would have been simply too normal in a season which has hardly contained an ounce of normality. Pompey haven’t been ones for following scripts or doing the expected this season – surely they weren’t about to fall in line with expectations on the day which held their last chance for glory, 24 hours after being relegated.

The early signs were ominous. Spurs had probably 70 per cent of the play in the opening 15 or 20 minutes and it looked like the Blues’ defence was in for a long and trying afternoon.

But gradually the 33,000 members of Avram Grant’s blue and white army watching from the eastern half of the stadium realised their side were playing solidly and tidily and Spurs were really not looking that slick.

Up front, Peter Crouch was getting on the end of many balls but doing very little with any of them, while Jermain Defoe, for whom the loudest boos of the afternoon rang out each time he touched the ball, which wasn’t that often at all, struggled to find even the sort of half-chance he can turn into goals.

Ricardo Rocha, later deservedly named man of the match, and Aaron Mokoena, would be few people’s choice of central defensive partners for such a big game against in-form opposition but they were nothing short of superb.

Either side of them, Steve Finnan used the ball sensibly and Hayden Mullins looked entirely comfortable in the foreign role of left-back. And when Spurs did find a way past the defence, normally through Gareth Bale getting in down the left or Luka Modric unlocking the backline, David James was an immovable force, reaching up, down or across to hold or beat away any effort that threatened Pompey’s clean sheet.

In the first half, some of Pompey’s forward play was slow and one-dimensional. The midfield and forwards looked tired for a while, but as the opening 45 minutes wore on, an increasing number of gaps appeared in the Tottenham rearguard and more than once, Frederic Piquionne could see the white of Heurelho Gomes’ eyes.

Michael Brown was probably the pick of the midfield, winning most of his tackles and playing some visionary passes to the widemen and forwards. Brown, who has tasted defeat at this stage before and was in no mood to do so again, was superbly supported by Marc Wilson, one of a number of players back from injury who looked in no way short of match sharpness as you might have expected, while Hassan Yebda, Aruna Dindane and Prince Boateng provided a few moments of flair in attack.

Pompey and their fans continued to grow in confidence in the second half, while the only thing growing for Spurs was frustration. On come Roman Pavlyuchenko and Niko Kranjcar to try to turn the game in Spurs’ favour but by then Pompey, to a man, were believing they could snatch this.

It would be wrong to say Spurs created nothing: they got in behind the Blues numerous times, but on each occasion, their final ball in was poor or a defender’s leg or goalkeeper’s fist got in the way.

Extra-time arrived with the Pompey fans in superb voice and the Spurs fans wondering how on earth their Champions League spot-chasing-team hadn’t finished off the Championship-bound team from whom they had bought some of their best players, and acquired their manager.

But if the Spurs followers were upset at the scoreline of 0-0, and were worried about being taken to penalties, they were about to feel a whole lot worse about life.

The extra half-hour was a shade under nine minutes old when Pompey sent their half of the ground into raptures with a goal from nowhere. Wilson floated a free-kick to the penalty spot, Michael Dawson slipped and Piquionne, hero of the quarter-final win over Birmingham, got a foot on the loose ball to poke it underneath Gomes.

Spurs were stunned, and so, you might argue, were Pompey’s followers. The belief which had grown gradually throughout the afternoon now mushroomed and their chants began to rub Tottenham’s noses in it, even more so when Crouch had one ruled out after James went down in a heap of bodies as a cross eluded him.

Supporters must have thought the final 20 minutes would seem like 200. In fact they flew past with Spurs running out of ideas and Pompey largely playing a sensible game of holding what they had and making the occasional break forward.

Just as the favourites gathered themselves together for a final push, Dindane’s brilliant solo run was too much for Wilson Palacios and he was lucky to escape with a yellow card for hauling down the striker - who until Thursday had looked set to be watching from the sidelines – for a penalty.

Boateng smashed it home and it was hard to know who the goal meant more to – a bare chest-beating Boateng, ridding himself of all the frustrations he’d suffered at White Hart Lane, or the 33,000, who’d just shown that Pompey winning big games is not possible only when Harry Redknapp makes it possible.

Then it was just a matter of time before Alan Wiley signalled the start of another Pompey party, and the Blues fans and players rejoiced in another unlikely twist, the unlikeliest yet, in the soap opera that has been Pompey’s recent era. Once the players had had their moment in the sun, it was Avram Grant’s turn to salute the fans who, after this, will hold him even closer to their hearts.

Only at Pompey could relegation and getting to a second FA Cup final in three years happen in 24 hours. And by the time they return to Wembley for the final, Chelsea will very probably be crowned Premier League champions. And everyone will say there’s only one team that can win that final, just as they said there was only one team that could win this semi…

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