Goal-shy forward Ricardo Fuller scored the winner against his former club, as Pompey fans were left thinking what might have been.
Portsmouth had an opportunity to take the lead within the first ten minutes through a penalty conceded by Rory Delap on Aruna Dindane. Kevin-Prince Boateng shot tamely into the grateful hands of Thomas Sorensen.
It was another ‘must-win’ game for the Blues and they were certainly on top throughout the game until Fuller drove a lot shot past the reaching hands of stand-in ‘keeper, Jamie Ashdown.
Then onwards, the away side lacked leadership and creativity, allowing Stoke to hold out for a hard-earned victory.
Words that sprung to mind included, ‘unlucky’. Pompey went into the game knowing that three points would lift them off the bottom of the table. They showed what they had done all season, desire, passion and spirit. Yet, at the end of the day, it all counted for nothing.
Pompey, as per usual, lacked the clinical finish in front of goal. And as some say, you do not deserve to win a football game if you do not take your chances.
The Potter’s goal was uncharacteristic and their first real move of the game. They had previously been relying on set-pieces, which Pompey’s defence were dealing with comfortably.
Those tuning into Sky would have felt pessimistic before the game even kicked off. Presenter Richard Keys announced ‘keeper David James had become injured in the warm-up, an injury which will now take three weeks to heal.
Ashdown was given his first league start of the season and was given, by what some would say a comfortable game. He looked assured, composed and was at no fault for the eventual winner. If only the same could be said for Pompey’s defence…
Despite James’ new injury, the visitors started brighter and received their reward when Delap’s high kick struck down Dindane. With no hesitation, referee Kevin Friend blew his whistle straight for a penalty, to the dismay of the home crowd.
However, everyone knows a penalty does not equal a guaranteed goal, particularly with Pompey. The thought across many Pompey fans at the time was, “Who’s taking it?”
After all, Pompey does not have an established penalty-kick taker. Aruna Dindane recently took and scored a penalty against Wigan, yet that responsibility was more of a token gesture to complete his hat-trick.
Kevin-Prince Boateng stepped-up to the spot, with the pressure mounted on to his shoulders. The resulting kick was abysmal, much to the relief of the home crowd. It was as though a penalty had never been given.
Stoke failed to push on from Sorensen’s save, allowing Pompey continue to pile on the pressure, not letting Stoke players having too long on the ball.
Many feared Pompey would collapse under Stoke City’s aerial threat, after previously conceding three goals against Blackburn, in their last fixture, all from set-pieces. Truth be told, there was little aerial threat.
As Friend blew for half-time, Portsmouth had reasons to be optimistic. Stoke had challenged their defence little, while they themselves looked far more likely to open the scoring.
Midfielder Jamie O’Hara nearly opened the scoring five minutes into the second-half, with a superb swerving effort which Sorensen just managed to tip past the post.
Michael Brown then provided Ivory Coast striker Dindane with an excellent opportunity, with the striker volleying wide of the post.
And then the killer blow came, or rather Ricardo Fuller. The Jamaican forward, who once played for Portsmouth, neatly turned on the edge of the box before curling in a strike into the bottom corner.
All of Portsmouth’s hard work had been undone. The game filtered out with Pompey failing to respond. It was a bitter disappointment.
As a must-win game is a loss, the title automatically transfers to the next game…Manchester United at home.
With United often playing at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, Pompey will have to be playing at the ‘Theatre of Miracles’.
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