2008/09 Pompey in review - January
3 league games and 3 cup games awaited Pompey in the month of January, and the month started with Lassana Diarra 'officially' completing his transfer to Real Madrid for a reported £20 million, despite the fact he was paraded to their fans a couple of days before this. The news that Pompey were likely to lose Defoe in the same window was confirmed. As far as buying was concerned, Portsmouth made the signing on Nadir Belhadj permanent, paying £4.4 million for him.
Defoe was left out of the squad for the opening game of the year, suffering from a mysterious case of the flu. Portsmouth began their defence of the FA Cup with a less than encouraging goalless draw at home against Bristol City. The game had plenty of chances, including a goalmouth scramble which saw Wilson and Distin both have their efforts cleared. Nugent, getting a rare start for Pompey, also had his chances, as did Crouch, but neither could break the deadlock. City defended bravely, and only created one chance worth noting, with David James acrobatically stopping Bradley Orr's header.
A frozen Fratton Park surface meant that their clash against Man City would be rearranged for a later date, which meant their next match would be the FA Cup replay against Bristol City. Before this fixture, Portsmouth offloaded the want-away Jermaine Defoe, whose less than enthusiastic performances in recent weeks and the mystery flu which saw him miss the Bristol City game, yet see a full recovery to be paraded around White Heart Lane days later meant the passionate fans had lost patience with England striker. However, it was not all doom and gloom, as Glen Johnson signed a new four and a half year deal.
Portsmouth put in a professional performance against the Championship outfit at Ashton Gate, but the Robins had their chances, with Maynard, Elliott and Sproule all causing the Pompey defence problems. At the other end, Pompey were unlucky not to take the lead, with David Nugent and Armand Traore both hitting the woodwork within the space of a minute. The counterattack was Portsmouth's weapon of choice for the evening, and took the lead with a classic break. But the goal was clouded in controversy, as Peter Crouch seemed to handle to ball twice before starting attack, and fittingly, it was Crouch who tucked the ball into the back of the net less than 20 seconds later, making up 80 yards in the process. The second goal came in the closing minutes, with Kranjcar finishing off a great Pompey break. The last action of the night was David James saving a Nicky Maynard penalty, which saw him extend a fantastic cup clean sheet record.
Danny Dyer in "The Football Factory" gave a fantastic speech which ended with the words "...Tottenham away, Love it!" This was the day that Pompey fans had been waiting for. A huge game against a team who could now be called Pompey's biggest rivals, at least in this league. Both sets of fans were pumped up and ready to go. With a whole host of subplots surrounding the match, none more outstanding then the two managers, one who used to play for the oppositions biggest rivals, and the other who jumped ship under controversial circumstances. No need for elaboration there.
It was a frantic encounter, with plenty of chances at each end. For Spurs, Defoe had a golden opportunity to silence the visiting fans, but stuck wide. Armand Traore could have given the blues the lead at the other end, but saw his shot well blocked by Corluka. The opening goal came from a Spurs attack which saw David James expertly keep out a deflected shot from Lennon. From this, the blistering pace of Armand Traore shook the Spurs defence, with the ball dropping kindly for David Nugent, who struck a belter, similar to a right hook, into the far corner from around 22 yards. Around 15 seconds separated Jamo's save and The Nuge's strike, which was his first in the Premiership, and one that sent the Pompey fans into ecstatic celebrations. Portsmouth could only hold on for around 10 minutes however, with the equaliser predictably coming from Defoe, who scored his first goal at White Hart Lane since his return. The drama was not over however, with Tottenham continuing to push forward and Darren Bent unable to produce a Sandra Redknapp quality of finish to give Spurs all 3 points. A point was probably the fairest result, but Pompey needed to pick up points quickly to avoid getting stuck in the relegation zone.
Jermaine Pennant was the latest addition to the squad ahead of their fourth round game against a Swansea. After beating their Welsh rivals in last seasons final, and following on from last weekends point at Spurs, Portsmouth went into the match as favourites, but after 25 minutes, the visitors found themselves in the lead. Nathan Dyer, on loan from that lot down the road, beat David James with a low, drilled shot. It was the first goal David James had conceded in the FA Cup since a deflected strike against Plymouth almost a year before, a run of nearly 11 hours of football. This woke up the hosts, who started to dominate proceedings and had chance through Crouch and Pennant, but fell victim to a sucker punch in first half stoppage time when Belhadj brought down Gomez to give the Swans a 2 goal lead. Pompey started the second half well and should have pulled one back when Crouch failed to connect from a Belhadj cross. Dimitrios Konstantopoulos was performing Olympian like heroics in goal for Swansea, keeping out efforts from Crouch, Davis, Kaboul and Pennant, with Kanu also missing a great opportunity after a mistake from the keeper. But the home side were unable to get back into the game and Swansea won the game 2-0, which sent the Champions crashing out of the cup and sent the Jacks into hysterics.
Pompey added West Ham midfield Hayden Mullins to the team, and took Porto midfielder Pele on loan before the visit of Aston Villa to Fratton Park. Villa were in fantastic form, picking up full points from their last 6 away games. After a scrappy opening period, it was the Portsmouth debutant who came closest to breaking the deadlock with a deflected strike from the edge of the area that went a whisker wide in front of a highly charged Fratton crowd. It was a debutant who did break the deadlock after 20 minutes, with Emile Heskey latching on to a flick on from a long kick out from Brad Friedel. Portsmouth were the better team throughout and Mullins, Johnson and Belhadj were all unlucky not to equalise. Agbonlahor had a great chance at the other end, but David James came out on top in the 1-on-1. Belhadj was lucky to be on the pitch after a petulant swipe at Craig Gardner, but Peter Walton only gave him a yellow. Justice was done with 20 minutes to go as he received a second yellow for dissent. Pompey still looked like they could get back into the game and their last chance fell to John Utaka, who beat a couple of defenders, but failed to lift it over the keeper. It was an encouraging display from the home side, but once again, they left with no points to show for their efforts, a story which was becoming all too common.
The month ended with a trip to Craven Cottage, to take on high flying Fulham. Pompey had plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges, with Pennant and Johnson looking promising on the right. First blood went to the home side, with Andy Johnson racing clear to put Fulham in the lead. He was unlucky not to double the lead when his shot was expertly stopped by England's number 1. Kaboul came closest to equalising, when he headed against the crossbar from a corner. Portsmouth also had two big shouts for a penalty turned down early in the second half. Against the run of play it was Fulham who took the game by the scruff of the neck, with Erik Nevland coming off the bench and scoring twice in 10 minutes to give Fulham all 3 points. It was harsh on Pompey who had created so many chances but failed to hit the net. There was a late consolation for David Nugent, who connected with the impressive Pennant's cross but it wasn't enough, and Portsmouth ended the month in a unconvincing 15th position, and without a league win since November.
PLAY UP POMPEY!