2008/09 Pompey in review - February
With the January transfer window open for the first two days of February due to the end of the month falling on a weekend, Portsmouth started the month with a Greek double, signing Angelos Basinas from AEK Athens on an 18 month deal, and Theofanis Gekas on loan from Bayer Leverkusen, both of which had impressive records.
The first game of the month was a Saturday evening clash against Liverpool at Fratton Park. Eyebrows were raised before the match as Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, opted to rest several big names. After a dour first half, which saw each team muster a barely mentionable half-chance, the game sprung to life after the break. David Nugent, who made no secret of his support for Everton, scored his 3rd goal in 4 games to give Pompey the lead. Nugent was at last starting to replicate his goalscoring record that he has for England. Portsmouth only held the lead for 7 minutes, when Fabio Aurelio scored from an indirect free kick, which came about after a stray Peter Crouch backpass. The scores were not level for long, as Hermann Hreidarsson's downwards header deceived Pepe Reina to give Portsmouth the lead with 10 minutes on the clock.
However, as has been the case for the Blues this season, their lead was to be squandered. Rafa had called Alonso, Kuyt and Torres off the bench and into action and it was the latter two names who were to make Portsmouth's defence pay. With 5 minutes left on the clock, Kuyt blasted a shot high past David James after doing well to make some space. Liverpool's winner came in the final minute, when Benayoun advanced down the right and delivered the perfect cross for Fernando Torres to header into the back of the net, despite David James getting his fingers to it. Portsmouth had once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and there was to be major implications the following day.
A stroke of bad luck and a poor run of results ultimately saw Tony Adams lose his job following the Liverpool match. Adams only won 2 of his 16 league matches, and saw Portsmouth eliminated from the UEFA Cup and the FA Cup. Assistant manager John Metgod was also shown the door by the club. Portsmouth we're now among the favourites for relegation and the man to take the helm 'temporarily' was Paul Hart, the ex-manager of Nottingham Forest, who stepped up from his role as Director of youth operations. Brian Kidd was also given a coaching role alongside Hart.
FA Cup 5th round weekend was an ideal time for Portsmouth to play Manchester City, after the fixture was postponed in early January and both teams were already knocked out of the FA Cup. Crouch and Nugent were given great service all afternoon, with Nugent wasting several chances in a first half dominated by the home team. City were toothless coming forward, in particular their Brazilian 'superstar' Robinho, who seemed uninterested in the game. So it was to no surprise when he was taken of shortly after the hour mark, much to the joy of the home crowd. No more than 5 minutes later, Portsmouth took the lead through Glen Johnson, who advanced down the right, cut inside and finished beautifully into the to corner, after seeing his initial shot parried back to him by Shay Given.
The Blues doubled their lead 5 minutes after when Hreidarsson scored his second goal in as many games, another header, this time a fantastic header from a corner, and celebrated in style. Portsmouth held on comfortably, with the last action of the match a magnificent save from David James, who was celebrating breaking the all time Premier League appearance record, featuring in his 536th game and moving past Gary Speed. It was England's No. 1's first clean sheet in the league since the goalless draw at Upton Park in November and Portsmouth's first win since defeating Blackburn 3-2 at the end of November.
Portsmouth's 3rd and final match of February was a trip to the Britannia Stadium against fellow strugglers Stoke. The game was by no means a classic, and after a dull 75 minutes with hardly any chance for either team, the game livened up. David Nugent and Niko Kranjcar played a fantastic one-two, and Kranjcar coolly slotted the ball past Thomas Sorenson. But the visiting fans hardly had time to sit and celebrate as they we're on their feet less than a minute after the restart, this time it was in anger at the referee, who gave a penalty against Glen Johnson, after he clearly chested the ball inside his own area under no pressure. Stoke weren't complaining, and to Pompey's displeasure, James Beattie stepped up and stroked the ball home and silenced the visiting fans chants of 'Scummer'.
To make things worse, the same man gave the hosts the lead 2 minutes later, when he tucked Danny Pugh's shot home from 2 yards, despite protests of offside. This was harsh on Portsmouth who worked hard for their lead that was whisked away from them by two poor refereeing decisions. But a stroke of luck in the final minute saw Hreidarsson's poked shot sliced into his own net by an unfortunate Ryan Shawcross, which was enough to give Pompey a well deserved point, and extend Hart and Kidd's undefeated streak to a mighty 2 games.
Things were looking up for Portsmouth now, and with Hart and Kidd in charge for the foreseeable future, fans had reason to be optimistic for the last three months of the season, but there was no doubt that Pompey were still heavily involved in a relegation scrap.
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