Fulham 1-1 Pompey
Saturday 31-03-07, 3pm
Pompey made a short journey to London to face Fulham at Craven Cottage today. To keep our UEFA Cup hopes alive we had to win. For so long that was looking likely but an injury time Fulham equaliser saw the game end in a 1-1 draw.
It had been suspected that maybe Niko Kranjcar would have to settle for a place on the bench after his exploits with Croatia but he retained his place despite Sean Davis returning, Arnold Mvuemba made way. The other change from the Reading match saw Lauren return from his injury lay off in place of Glen Johnson. Svetoslav Todorov earned a place on the bench.
Niko Kranjcar's early strike after only 4 minutes, a sweetly struck 20-yard curling effort looked to have given us the points but it wasn't the case as Ian Pearce grabbed a late, late deflected equaliser.
With the match barely three minutes old the first meaningful attack and effort saw Pompey ahead. Niko Kranjcar's 20-yard curling effort beat former Southampton keeper Antti Niemi into the top corner, laving him rooted to the spot to send the travelling fans into a frenzy. Pompey kept pushing on and minutes later Gary O'Neil's effort, from similar range as Kranjcar's narrowly missed Niemi's goal as Pompey looked to double the advantage.
As you would expect Fulham upped their game and pushed on more, looking dangerous down the flanks but the danger was being repelled, usually by Sol Campbell. When Fulham did get a chance on goal though through Tomasz Radzinski David James was equal to the task as he tipped his 20-yarder over the bar for a corner, which was then cleared.
After being denied by the post with his stunning 30-yard strike against Reading a couple of weeks ago Richard Hughes was looking threatening again, this time his long ranged strike failed to trouble neither the goals frame or Niemi as he gathered comfortably before James had to be alert again to turn Michael Brown's (a former Pompey loanee) 25-yarder round the post again.
Half chances came and went for both sides in the later stages of the first half, the best of which fell to Franck Queudrue. His 25-yard drive, after we had gifted him the ball, had to again be dealt with brilliantly by the former England international who turned an effort around the post once again.
The first quarter of an hour of the second half passed with little threat from Pompey but the same could be said about Fulham, although they did force James into a save, albeit it a comfortable one through Brian McBride. James then made a howler, luckily getting away with it before former Pompey loanee Alexei Smertin brought the best out of him again.
On the hour, a time almost compulsory with tactical changes Harry Redknapp made his first of the day. Kranjcar, after a busy week of international football and his first Pompey goal was taken off with Matty Taylor coming on.
Time was passing by and despite coming under some pressure we weren't being subjected to too many efforts on goal. Vincenzo Montella having the best of the next few chances that Fulham did have, but he failed to trouble James or indeed the target.
As the final ten minutes dawned along came an emotional moment and a moment I feared I would never see again, the sight of Svetoslav Todorov in a Pompey shirt. The Bulgarian only returned from international duty on Friday so wasn't expected to feature but came on in place of Kanu to a hero's reception and he almost scored immediately! Only Niemi's legs denied him a dramatic and instant goalscoring return.
Arnold Mvuemba became the third Pompey player to come on, coming on for Benjani before Todorov was again brilliantly denied by Niemi, this time the Finn turned his strike around the post as Pompey looked the most likely side to score again.
As we moved into the second minute of injury Ian Pearce, who had been struggling for the final twenty minutes with an injury struck a 20-yard effort, wickedly deflected in beyond James to deny us a valuable three points.
Nothing much to say apart from gutted!
Niko Kranjcar's sweet curling effort looked like it was winning us the match. Fulham had chances but we were equal to most. But for a wickedly deflected effort we would have won.
The importance of victories over both United and Watford over Easter has just grown.
PLAY UP POMPEY!
Fulham 1 - Ian Pearce 90
Pompey 1 - Niko Kranjcar 4
Niko Kranjcar (Matty Taylor 61)
Kanu (Svetoslav Todorov 80)
Benjani (Arnold Mvuemba 83)
Substitutes Not Used