2008/09 Pompey in review - March
The Carling Cup Final saw the match between Portsmouth and Man United moved to a later date, which meant Portsmouth's next match was a tough home tie against title contenders Chelsea, who were finding form under new manager Guus Hiddink. However, the hosts were also under new management and looking good under Hart and Kidd. It was a rainy evening at Fratton Park, and conditions made things awkward for both goalkeepers, in particular David James, who was playing his 100th Premier League game for Pompey. Malouda and Lampard nearly caused the England keeper embarrassment, only for his defence to come to the rescue. Pompey had a few decent chances at the other end when Davis hit a beauty from well outside the box, and Nugent had a chance when John Terry's touch let him down, but both times Petr Cech was on hand to keep the scores level. The game was back and forward second half, Kranjcar had the best chance to win it for Portsmouth, but his disappointing shot went harmlessly wide. With about 10 minutes left on the clock, Didier Drogba scored the games only goal after Ricardo Quaresma, who was brought on as a sub and brought a breath of fresh air to Chelsea's attack, sent in a cross which made its way all the way through to Drogba, who had time to take a touch and drill a shot into the bottom corner. Portsmouth bombarded Chelsea's defence in the last 10 minutes, but were unable to get the point that their performance deserved.
Portsmouth had a week off for FA Cup Quarter Final day, so their next match was 11 days later at the Riverside. The first chance of note came from David Nugent, who was starting to look like the striker Pompey paid around £6 million for. He teamed up well with Crouch but saw his shot strike the post, meanwhile Tuncay was just wide of the post minutes later at the other end as he rippled the side netting. Portsmouth did take the lead shortly after, Crouch striking on the turn through a crowd of players from a quick Johnson corner. He could have doubled the lead from a Belhadj cross, but couldn't get enough contact on the ball to steer it past Brad Jones. During the second half, Krancjar curled a wicked free kick inches over the bar from 25 yards, whilst Sylvan Distin was on hand to deny the on-loan Marlon King. Portsmouth started to sit back and absorb Boro's attacks. When Matthew Bates got his second yellow card for diving with 15 minutes left on the clock, it looked like Pompey would stroll home and pick up their first 3 points on the road since beating Sunderland in November. But once again, the curse of the late goal was to deny Portsmouth, with Marlon King was on hand to punch home a rebound. It could have been worse if Alves finished when 1-on-1 with David James seconds later, but Jamo came out on top and the game ended 1-1.
Off the pitch, the Portsmouth Website released plans on the design to increase the capacity of Fratton Park to 30,000, reverting to their old idea of rotating the pitch 90 degrees and adding new stands. This was said to be temporary solution to increase the capacity whilst the new stadium was being built. Pompey fans would be forgiven for thinking this wouldn't happen anytime soon, as this was far from the first time a new stadium idea was brought to the attention of the fans.
With an international break at the end of the month, Portsmouth's last game in March was a home game against Everton. A win here would cement Hart and Kidd's steady start and pull the club away from the relegation zone. Everton were in great form going into the match, with the Champions League a common topic all across the Merseyside area. It was the visitors who took the lead with barely 5 minutes on the clock. Leighton Baines curled a beautiful free-kick around the wall and left David James flat footed as the ball went in off the foot of the post. Portsmouth had to fight for their chances and looked dangerous from their set pieces. Peter Crouch was the focal point for most of Pompey's attacks, and it was that man who converted Kranjcar's cross to pull the scores level. Portsmouth were the better team and had chances after the break to take the lead, with Crouch and Nugent both testing Tim Howard. Portsmouth's persistence finally paid off with 15 minutes left on the clock, Everton were unable to cope with the presence of Peter Crouch, and he rose highest to nod home the corner from Sean Davis. Davis nearly turned from provider to scorer, when he hammered a stunning volley past Howard, but saw his effort bounce back off the upright. It was not a comfortable finish to watch given Portsmouth's record of conceding late goals, but the defence stood strong to give Portsmouth 3 points which took them clear of the relegation zone.
It was a fitting end to short footballing month, with Portsmouth only playing 3 games in both February and March, as opposed to the 7 games a month they played in both November and December. Only 2 points separated Portsmouth from the drop-zone, and it was going to be a nervous end to a season, which started with high hopes. It was not over for all players however, with David James, Glen Johnson and Peter Crouch all called up to represent England, and a whole host of others taking off to represent their respective countries, something that was becoming a common practice.
PLAY UP POMPEY!