2008/09 Pompey in review - April
Peter Crouch looked good in an England shirt, silencing any critics with a goal to help England to victory against Ukraine, and pulled out the rope whilst doing it. It was Crouch who should have struck Portsmouth into the lead when they visited the KC Stadium for their opening game of April. England right back, Glen Johnson, sent in a magnificent cross to find Crouch unmarked, but his header lacked power and was easily collected by Hull Keeper Matt Duke.
There were plenty of chances for both teams, as Manucho, Barmby and Fagan all tried their luck for the hosts, and at the other end, Nugent should have done better when through on goal. The game swung in Hull's favour with 10 minutes remaining, as Glen Johnson, who had been pushing his luck all afternoon, got his second yellow card for a seemingly harsh tackle. Hull pushed forward but the 10-men defended strongly, and nearly won it in the dying seconds, when Hreidarsson connected with a Belhadj cross, only to see his effort crawl across the goal, hit the post and be cleared to safety. It was another important point for Portsmouth who were edging their way to the 40 point target.
West Brom were a team who, despite playing some decent football, looked unlikely to reach the aforementioned 40 point target. Mowbray's men travelled to Fratton Park as longshots to survive, but put in a great performance. They key to Portsmouth's attack was on the right hand side, where Kaboul and Pennant ran riot for the whole of the first half. Portsmouth were looking dangerous, and Kaboul had already seen a shot skip wide when he put Portsmouth in the lead shortly after the half-hour. A great solo run, which saw him beat several men, was rounded off with a superb finish, rifled past Scott Carson. West Brom started to force their way back into the game, and after missing a host of chances, they finally equalised in the second half, Jonathon Greening poking home from a rebound. 15 minutes later, the Baggies had taken a shock lead, when Chris Brunt smacked a free kick past David James, with the help of a deflection. They only had the lead for a couple of minutes however, when Niko Krancjar had scored a spectacular free kick from about 30 yards. This brought the home fans to life as they roared their troops on for a winner, but it wasn't to be as the scores ended level, and both sides had to settle for a point apiece.
Although Portsmouth had only lost once under Hart and Kidd, a tough run-in meant they had to start picking up a few victories against teams in similar positions. With the visit of Bolton to Fratton Park, Hart experimented with playing Johnson on the right wing, in front of Kaboul, which started to pay from the first whistle. As was the case against West Brom, Portsmouth had a lot of space on the right and most of their chances came from this area. In a first half dominated by the hosts, it was Glen Johnson who had the best chances, thrice threatening to score. Sean Davis also had a chance to give Portsmouth the lead, but at half time the score remained at 0-0. Portsmouth were dealt a heavy blow with 20 minutes remaining when Niko Kranjcar was fouled by Gavin McCann, and had to be stretchered off. This was the end of the creative Croatian's season. Belhadj came off the bench to replace him and made an immediate impact, with his corner passing through a crowd of players and into the net. Replays show that the last touch seemed to come off Kanu, who was quick to claim his first League goal of the season, another sizzling 1-yarder. Portsmouth comfortably saw out the last 10 minutes to gain 3 points which pulled them a comfortable distance away from the drop zone.
Not many Portsmouth fans expected any points from their visit to Old Trafford, even after their shock victory their last season, and the good run that Hart and Kidd had been on. So it was to no surprise when Wayne Rooney tapped United ahead after 10 minutes after a great ball from Ryan Giggs. This seemed to wash away any confidence Portsmouth had going into the game. United dominated with countless chances but failed to double their lead before the break. Crouch, once again playing in the lone strikers role, didn't have much to do, but done well when called upon. Portsmouth had a few sniffs at goal through Johnson and Pennant, but nothing that worried Van der Sar, and United made their dominance count with 10 minutes remaining, with Carrick on hand to guide the ball home after Scholes through ball to double their lead complete a fairly comfortable victory.
The final match in a pivot month was a relegation showdown with unexpected strugglers Newcastle. Alan "The Messiah mkII" Shearer had recently taken over as the Newcastle manager, and had this down as a 'must win game'. Portsmouth on the other hand, were slightly less anxious coming into this match, with a lot of the fans agreeing that a draw here would as good as guarantee safety. The Geordies had gone out of their way to drum up some atmosphere, giving away 50,000 free scarves, and employing some rotund opera singer to blurt out some barely understandable anthem before kick-off. Shearer started with 3 strikers on the pitch, but their players could not replicate the passion shown by the fans. Portsmouth set up a solid defence and comfortably coped with the Newcastle threat all night. There were a handful of chances, with Owen tamely shooting at David James the pick of the bunch for Newcastle, although Viduka and Martins both should have done better. Portsmouth also had a host of chances, and with 10 minutes to go Peter Crouch, who should have had a penalty earlier on, fired straight at the legs of Steve Harper. Richard Hughes nearly scored a rare goal but his header seemed to take an age to hit the base of the upright. Newcastle pushed forward but failed to create any chances to give the Blues a huge point, and leave Newcastle in a worrying position.
Standing on 38 points at the end of April, it looked unlikely that they would finish in the drop zone and many Pompey fans considered themselves safe, even if it was still mathematically possible to go down. But with 4 games left to play, it was never going to be straightforward turning this general assumption into a certainty and the month of May proved that.
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