Portsmouth restore a sense of local pride as they emphatically trounce their neighbours in their own backyard…
I cannot put into words how good a feeling it was on Saturday to hear the referee’s final whistle. As a Portsmouth fan I have an endured a lot this season. Only on Wednesday did the club look as though they were going out of existence, and that threat still remains. Yet winning 4-1 at Southampton was as good a feeling I’ve ever felt being a Portsmouth supporter.
I was slightly nervous about the game. I had been fortunate enough to get a ticket without queueing up in the freezing cold weather. Southampton were the in-form side. It was an FA Cup tie, a competition made for upsets. Pompey had never won at St. Mary’s and the whole scenario was just not looking good.
Nevertheless I travelled to Southampton early Saturday morning full of hope that something special would happen that day. I wasn’t too be disappointed.
While walking through Southampton I experienced one of the most bizarre feelings I’ve ever felt, an involuntary hatred towards a large number of innocent people and in this scenario, they were the Southampton fans.
A football rivalry can do strange things to your normal style of thinking. All common-sense goes out of the window. You feel the need to establish yourself and show your superiority, and for some fans that’s off the pitch as well as on it.
When I arrived at the stadium the atmosphere was intense. You could cut the tension with a knife. Southampton fans were already in fine voice, gladly mocking Pompey and their financial state of affairs. Although I hate to admit it, Portsmouth fans were overshadowed.
However, despite their good atmosphere, seeing certain Saints fans swearing and spitting towards the away section was almost laughable. But nevermind, Portsmouth’s on-field display soon showed the difference in quality between the two teams.
Southampton started the better of the two sides, hustling and bustling the Portsmouth players, giving them little time on the ball.
Striker Papa Waigo had the first real opportunity of the game, connecting with a Ricky Lambert cross which David James did well to scramble away. It was poor defending by Portsmouth and Southampton really should have took the lead.
The away side were restrained from an attacking viewpoint – with little being created to trouble ‘keeper Kelvin Davis.
Then out of nowhere, like a bolt of lightning, midfielder Jamie O’Hara produced a dipping shot from outside the area, producing a stunning save from Davis which saw the ball tipped over the bar.
With half-an-hour of the game gone, James produced yet another ‘calamity-moment’ when he dropped Lambert’s corner onto Radhi Jaidi’s head. Fortunately for Portsmouth, defender Jaidi was taken by surprise and headed over.
Southampton were proving to be dangerous from set-pieces and came close once again before half-time through defender Wayne Thomas.
Through another Lambert corner Thomas was able to connect yet James was able to produce a well-timed save, which he knew little about, that blocked Thomas’ header.
Portsmouth should have needed little motivation. This past season has been one of the worst in the club’s 112-year history. As midfielder O’Hara would later say, the club needed to ‘give something back to the fans.’
As the match reached half-time however, Portsmouth looked unlikely to score and a Southampton goal looked inevitable.
Within the opening minutes of the second-half, Southampton midfielder Adam Lallana saw his header somehow pushed away by the reaching hands of David James.
This would prove to be a turning point for Portsmouth.
New life had been ignited into the Portsmouth side, with strikers Aruna Dindane and John Utaka going close to taking the lead for Pompey soon after.
Despite an improved second-half performance, Grant introduced striker Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, replacing defensive midfielder Angelos Basinas.
Abeyie would provide the width Portsmouth were desperately missing. Southampton fans mocked him as he came on, shouting, ‘Who?!’ unanimously. They would soon find out who he was.
The former Arsenal youth broke the deadlock after 66 minutes, after being given enough space inside the area to produce, what could be described as a ‘Henry-esque’ finish, curling the ball low and precise into Davis’ bottom-right-hand corner.
Portsmouth fans were in dreamland and the celebrations that followed were memorable to say the least. Substitute Frederic Piquionne, who was just about to come on, ran onto the pitch jumping with joy to celebrate with his fellow teammates.
However, celebrations were short-lived. Within minutes Pompey conceded a free-kick just outside their penalty area. Striker Lambert was able to head Dan Harding’s in-swinging free-kick without little challenge for his 24th goal of the season.
It was reminiscent of ‘typical Pompey’. Getting your hopes up only to be disappointed. From my own view, I withheld the pessimistic view of ‘Let’s hold on for a replay’.
Many would have considered the momentum to have now lied with Southampton, yet that wasn’t to be.
Portsmouth struck on the break after Abeyie played in Dindane, who gladly chipped the ball over the quickly-approaching Kelvin Davis.
The dream was back on.
As Southampton went all-out-attack in the hope of a second equaliser, Belhadj was sent through on goal after an exquisite volleyed ball from O’Hara. His pace and composure were too much for the home defence, as the Algerian celebrated his first ever FA Cup goal.
With eight minutes of the game remaining, Portsmouth looked to be likely winners. O’Hara all but confirmed this a few minutes after Belhadj’s third adding his own name to the scoresheet.
It was another counter-attack by Belhadj who delightfully chipped the ball to Abeyie who tapped the ball back to O’Hara to volley home a well-deserved goal.
4-1. The same scoreline as it had been the last time Portsmouth played Southampton, this time at home in the league, in the 2004/2005 season.
It was beautiful. That’s all I can say, really.
A number of Southampton fans walked out towards the end, but to leave some credit, the majority stayed and remained in good humour, singing, ‘Bring on the taxman’.
Fans won’t care about the financial troubles concerning the club for the next few days. They will rejoice and talk of the game for years to come.
The delight of the players and manager at the end of the game summed up what it had meant to them and if anything, it was reassuring. It provided hope that the players cared for Portsmouth and more importantly, they cared for the fans.
Manager Avram Grant came out on his own and bowed down towards the Pompey fans. This result mattered so much. I don’t think you can really put it in words. The footage of the event can only show its real meaning.
Grant is a man to be admired in football. He is not a coward, he is an intellectual. He’s a deep emotional thinker who understands how important the club is to the city, and the city is to the club.
After the game finished there were certain incidents that took place outside of the ground. Speaking from my own experience, a small number of Southampton fans threw rocks and hubcaps at Portsmouth fans as they made their way outside the stadium. One man suffered a deep head wound, with blood spilling from his crown.
Portsmouth restored a sense of pride by becoming victorious on Saturday. Yes, they were playing League One opposition but in the circumstances, winning 4-1 is just extraordinary.
I have a lot of respect for Grant and the players and it’s because of that I shall never forget the hard work they’ve put in this season. Despite what’s happened this season I don’t think anyone can blame the shift they’ve put in, their work ethic is an example to how all footballers should behave.
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