Pompey 1-0 Fulham
Tues 24-07-07, 11am
The Barclays Asia Trophy kicked off with Pompey and Fulham opening proceedings. A match played at a decent tempo in very difficult conditions was won 1-0 thanks to Benjani's 1st half goal.
Gary O'Neil made his return from injury as he started the match for his first taste of pre season action, with Sol Campbell captaining the side that included summer signings Sylvain Distin, Herman Hreidarsson, Sulley Muntari and David Nugent, but John Utaka was on the bench - where he remained.
Pompey had the most of the possession but Fulham missed a couple of wonderful chances before Benjani made them pay with a fine finish. Others chances came and went for both sides but we did enough to see us into Friday's final against Liverpool or South China.
Sol Campbell led Pompey out as the Pompey Chimes rang around the stadium as the teams lined up ready for the game, when it started Sulley Muntari was quick in to steal the ball from Fulham as he looked hungry - but also tackled his own players at times and poorly gave the ball away - as both sides produced some nice touches early on but the ball was given away too often, as Harry Redknapp had stressed could not happen,
The first opening was created by Fulham, Clint Dempsey's superb ball out wide to Brian McBride created the first half chance, but his effort was wild into the crowd.
One prime example of giving the ball away was when Muntari did so, but to his credit he won it back and his pass saw Gary O'Neil away. Instead of shooting he slid in David Nugent but he could not get it out from under his feet and Tony Warner saved comfortably.
Diomansy Kamara took a hefty challenge from Campbell, which looked quite nasty but was more out of clumsiness than maliciousness shortly before the unusual events of the 25th minute, when everyone stopped, as the players went off for a water break. Yep, unusual but certainly effective and needed in the conditions the payers were playing in.
This break seemed to have helped Fulham more, who looked more threatening after, but a quick break from Pompey with Nugent running at the defence saw Niko Kranjcar shoot wide.
With half time looming Fulham should have been ahead. Alexei Smertin's cross found the head of an unmarked Dempsey - who should have scored - but David James reacted brilliantly, even though it was straight at him, to keep it out.
On the stroke of half time Pompey were ahead, they did not fail where Fulham had. The opportunity that came to Benjani was a little fortunate, but he finished with aplomb. Kranjcar had tried a shot which came off Zat Knight to Benjani who took it well.
Redknapp made plenty of changes at half time, Lauren, O'Neil, Pedro Mendes and Benjani came off as Noe Pamarot, Matty Taylor, Sean Davis and Lomana LuaLua came on.
The half kicked off sloppily with needless errors and passes poorly given away before a quick break saw LuaLua break away. He freed Kranjcar who attempted to slide the ball across to the waiting Nugent, but this was cut out by Knight who almost turned passed his own keeper, but Baptista did well to keep it out.
Yet another poor mistake, this time from Sylvain Distin who gave the ball away on the half way line allowed Kamara to break away. Good skill saw him go all the way but he was denied by another fine save from James.
As time drifted by Nugent created himself a chance as he out muscled Knight, but he was unable to bend his shot back enough as it went wide.
A moment of worry for Pompey came shortly after the hour when injury forced half time sub Davis off again, his replacement was Arnold Mvuemba.
Fulham let another guilt edged opportunity slip by when Collins John shot over when clean through, although he was under pressure from Herman Hreidarsson and our lead was preserved when James made another save, this time from Papa Bouba Diop's effort from range, getting down well to save smartly.
With a little under 15 minutes left an unhappy Sol Campbell was taken off with Dejan Stefanovic replacing him, also taking the armband.
Muntari has shown some terrible touches and given the ball away far too easily, but had also worked hard to rectify his errors and showed his real quality with an effort that had the keeper scrambling across the goal, as he unleashed venomously from 30 yards after a quickly taken Matty Taylor corner.
With virtually the final kick of the game the result was almost put beyond any doubt as the latest in a series of efforts from range from Taylor proved his closest. Baptista was beaten but the post was not, as this denied him a cracking goal.
This was a good work out, with the players giving a good accounts of themselves although the ball was given away far too easily and far too often, so this needs sorting and fast.
Pedro Mendes and Sulley Muntari worked hard together in the heart of the midfield and look as though they have a good understanding and partnership brewing up, with Mendes pulling off some fantastic passes before coming off at half time. Muntari gave the ball away far to cheaply with some lazy passes, without even looking but he did chase down his mistakes.
David Nugent looks a more than willing runner and his goal will come soon. It was at times a difficult game for Niko Kranjcar, who also gave the ball away wastefully at times but he showed that if you give him the right role he can and will produce something special.
All in all a good showing, yep not great but good nevertheless. What we have to remember is though this is still pre season and the players are working back to the top of their game. Another factor were the conditions. They are new to most of the players, so even taking this into account the match was played at a very high tempo.
PLAY UP POMPEY!
Pompey 1 - Benjani 45
Lauren (Noe Pamarot 45)
Sol Campbell (Dejan Stefanovic 77)
Gary O'Neil (Matty Taylor 45)
Pedro Mendes (Sean Davis 45 replaced by Arnold Mvuemba 65)
Benjani (Lomana LuaLua 45)
Walshy gave Campbell the man of the match on sky and you had to agree with him as he was leading by example and covering for others when needed, he was literally everywhere and won almost every ball.
David James made several fine saves as usual, so as ever he was in the running, but even though he gave the ball away far too often Sulley Muntari also showed some fine touches and broke up the play well with Pedro Mendes, so he still ran Campbell closest, although had Mendes played the full 90 it is quite possible he could have been the man of the match.