Pompey 0-0 Arsenal
Sun 13-05-07, 3pm
Arsenal were the last guests to Fratton this afternoon, victory was a must for Pompey and even that might not have been enough to earn a Uefa cup place. If I was confident of a Pompey win before the teams were announced - despite the quality Arsenal posses, I was even more confident after seeing their team, particularly their bench. It wasn't too be though and a performance generally lacking the spark and urgency you would have been expecting wasn't there and the game ended in a 0-0 draw.
Injuries to Sol Campbell and Lauren prevented them facing their former side with injuries also ruling out Dejan Stefanovic and Matty Taylor. Richard Hughes did return to face his former club though he replaced Lauren. Arsenal had former Pompey keeper Mart Poom in goal for them with a very youthful looking side, very, very much so on the bench.
Chances were at a premium for Pompey really but the one time we did break down the Arsenal back four to score through Niko Kranjcar the goal was very controversially ruled out for offside. In Graham Poll's final match as an official it was inevitable that their would be some controversy wasn't it! Prior to this David James saved a Julio Baptista penalty, with the Brazilian guilty of several other misses
We were looking for a bright opening and when Sean Davis had a go from the edge of the area early on from a well worked free kick it looked promising. Davis' effort had Mart Poom flying across his goal but was never really looking too threatening.
Arsenal very nearly took the lead themselves as Gael Clichy burst through. His effort deflected off Glen Johnson and looped up over David James but was brilliantly hooked away from beneath his own bar by Djimi Traore.
Shortly after Kanu had worked an opening before shooting wide Julio Baptista had his first chance of the game. The Brazilian got in but was denied brilliantly by James, diving down low with the ball somehow going over the bar to the other side from which the shot came in.
Pompey threatened the Arsenal goal again, or at least should have when Kanu's layoff found Niko Kranjcar but a poor first touch saw the chance get away. The Croatian still got in an effort but it was never troubling Poom.
Baptista's next chance should have seen him at least hit the target but with a free header - even if he did look suspiciously offside he headed wide, then came Poom's first save of the match. Again Kanu made space for himself before his shot from range was turned over by the former Pompey keeper.
With half time approaching Arsenal were gifted a chance. Emmanuel Eboue took on Abou Diaby's fine flick and as he burst through Linvoy Primus' mistimed challenge was a clear cut penalty. Up stepped Baptista but a well hit penalty was turned away by James.
The second half got underway with a Pompey change, Lomana LuaLua came on with Benjani coming off, could the erratic LuaLua be the man to turn things for us?
In the first five minutes of the second half Arsenal had a couple of good chances, firstly another good Arsenal break saw Baptista in. A good first touch gave a clear shooting opportunity but James saves well then as Alexander Hleb got away from Gary O'Neil a poor finish denied him and end product.
As the Arsenal fans sang 'England's number one' to James a patient, good passing move eventually saw Traore's ball finding LuaLua offside, but he couldn't connect in any case. Then Kanu again tried his luck from range but a deflection made the save easier for Poom as he comfortably claimed.
On 64 minutes Pedro Mendes made his return from injury as he came on for Sean Davis, shortly after Justin Hoyte had the ball in the net for Arsenal but Baptista had long since been given offside.
With around 20 minutes to play we had won the match, or so we thought! LuaLua, unwilling to pass as I was screaming at him to do so proved why he wouldn't as he made himself some space before shooting. Poom saved well but Richard Hughes followed up - he really should have scored but credit must go to Poom as he reacted well to save again, but the ball still found its way to Kranjcar and he tucked home.
After quite delay the goal was eventually ruled out for offside but with the ball finding its way to Kranjcar via Philippe Senderos it shouldn't have been. It wasn't an easy call to make but it was the call that counted. 'Graham Poll, you're a f**king a**hole' soon reverberated around Fratton!
With just under 15 minutes to play the last Pompey change was made with Gary O'Neil limping off to be replaced by Arnold Mvuemba, but there was just no goal for Pompey. With pretty much the last kick of the game Pompey had one last chance with a free kick but Kranjcar's effort from Mendes' layoff that went horribly wide pretty much summed up the afternoon.
It has been a long season but the lack of urgency today pretty much summed up that the Uefa cup was realistically a bridge too far this season. Arsenal are a great side but with the young side they fielded - talented as they are this was a chance.
As it happens on this particular round of matches the wrongly disallowed goal today did cost us a place in next seasons Uefa Cup as results saw both Bolton and Reading fail to win, but looking at the bigger picture it is moments throughout the season that saw us miss out, especially since the turn of the year.
Nevertheless this has still been a fine season, to miss out is sad and whether a better chance will come around again for a while only time will tell, as three places - two more than usual due to the way the domestic cup's worked out, via the league will not come round all the time so a top 5 maybe 6 place is what we would normal need, or a cup win of course.
All in all we can't really complain too much, had we been told this time last year that we would be going into this game with a shot at the Uefa cup would many of us really have believed?
PLAY UP POMPEY!
Gary O'Neil (Arnold Mvuemba 76)
Sean Davis (Pedro Mendes 54)
Benjani (Lomana LuaLua 45)
Substitutes Not Used