Date:Thursday August 16 2007
Wed 15-08-07, 7.45pm
The first visitors to Fratton of 2007/08 season were last seasons champions United and an air of expectation greeted the players.
Injury again kept out Gary O'Neil, who was joined by Sol Campbell and Lauren on the injury list, although Pedro Mendes was passed fit. Noe Pamarot and Martin Cranie - for his competitive debut - came in with the rest of the team unchanged.
A first half of sloppy play, the ball given away to cheaply and a distinct lack of organisation saw Pompey go into the break 1-0 down thanks for Paul Scholes. The 2nd half saw a change in tactics and personnel to see Pompey turn it around and Benjani earned us a point as the match ended 1-1. Sulley Muntari was sent off after receiving two yellows as Cristiano Ronaldo also saw red.
Amid an electric atmosphere there was some early banter between David Nugent and Nemanja Vidic, who reacted when shoved by the Pompey man into Edwin Van Der Sar. It was much ado about nothing though.
Martin Cranie made a good start to his debut and stayed on his feet well as he was ran up by Nani, who was doing step over after step over. But Pompey were giving the ball away far too much and there was no shape to the formation.
The United pressure finally told and as too much respect was afforded them after Nani had found Carlos Tevez his lay off found Paul Scholes unmarked, who thumped home from outside the area on 15 minutes to put United 1-0 up.
Some Pompey pressure was exerted as a corner won off Wes Brown, this corner was whipped in superbly but no blue shirt could get onto the end of it as it was flicked away for a Pompey throw, but that was the kind of quality that was needed and had been missing.
After Sean Davis had struck a poor effort from distance wide United were denied a second by David James' save from Ronaldo with the ball just scrambled away from Tevez as he followed up.
United were closing us down really well, giving us no time on the ball, or chance to do anything but a change in tactics - at least - was needed at half time if we were to get back into the game and David Nugent needed some help up top, Benjani was being wasted where he was playing.
Changes were what Harry Redknapp made, both in terms of formation and personnel. We went back to a 4-4-2, with Djimi Traore and Matty Taylor on for Cranie and Pedro Mendes.
With these changes we looked more threatening and pressure was put on United and right away as John Utaka ran at his man to get a shot in, but this was unable to test the keeper. Then soon after Nani ran at and beat Noe Pamarot before getting his shot away, which was well saved by James at the expense of a corner.
United should have been 2-0 when a patient build up involving Nani and Scholes eventually saw Tevez miss the target from 8 yards. This proved costly as Pompey immediately equalised!
The 4-4-2 formation completely changed the game and Taylor's extra quality and delivery brought about what was at the time certainly a deserving equaliser as his cross into Benjani saw him arriving form the edge of the area to superbly headed home for his 2nd in as many games.
Straightaway Sulley Muntari was booked for a foul on Cristiano Ronaldo which also gave United a free kick. Ronaldo took this, but his 30 yarder was pushed away by James.
The match was flowing from end to end with the atmosphere taking the roof off the ground!
After Edwin Van Der Sar had denied Utaka the Pompey pressure was building and with Nugent looking nailed on to make it 2-1, Patrice Evra somehow got a boot to it to turn it over for a corner. Benjani had created a shooting opportunity, with his effort pushed away and with Nugent looking odds on to put us ahead, somehow Evra got there first to save the say.
With 25 minutes to play Pompey were forced into their third and final change as injury forced off Pamarot with Richard Hughes coming on. This caused further rotation in the Pompey ranks and took the sting out of our game.
Somehow with players queuing up for United we escaped as Ryan Giggs' ball across was missed by Vidic from 3 yard, we then went up the other end and Benjani was denied by Van Der Sar, with the Zimbabwean then sliding in Utaka but his ball was just too long.
A real end-to-end game almost saw United take the lead again. Ronaldo got himself some space to get in a 20 yard drive that was parried by James, but only into the path of Tevez, but he recovered to get there first.
The moment when Nugent looked as though he might score his first competitive Pompey goal came after another Utaka break saw Nugent get a chance, but his first touch saw it get away from him before he fell, in frustration he beat the ground but the crowd were soon signing his name, something he acknowledged.
A slightly late challenge by Muntari saw Steve Bennett issue him a quite possible unnecessary second yellow card, thus make it red! Shortly after Ronaldo joined him as he received a straight red for a head butt on Hughes, which led to a melee involving several players.
The match then played itself out for the remaining minutes with the points shared after the game of two halves and the 1-1 draw.
Some hours before kick off I was very confident of a Pompey victory. Having seen the team that was on display - particularly the back four - I was not quite so optimistic when kick off arrived. With the miss matched formation and the way the match had been going at half time I would have easily taken a point. The change in formation and personnel for the 2nd half soon left me believing that we could and would win the game, which but for the injury at the time it came to Noe Pamarot I think we would, but this just disrupted the formation when it was not needed.
Yep, I am slightly disappointed we did not end up winning, but this is not a bad point by any means and to still be unbeaten after two very tough and tricky matches, in varying way, is okay with me and I am happy with this start - a touch frustrated it is not a little better though, but not too much so.
It is easy to say in hindsight but the tactics and formation were not right tonight, well not in the 1st half anyway!
Why the bloody hell are we playing a lone striker at home? We often worry about a 4-5-1 formation away from home, but the 4-5-1 that we saw, if it was that - as it was not quite clear what it was - in the 1st half was horrible. When we changed to a 4-4-2 at half time, also bringing on that natural width in Matty Taylor and the whole change in formation and personnel made a world of difference.
It is difficult to say, but it appears that Sulley Muntari's previous is being held against him. The second booking was a free kick, but maybe nothing more however the challenge was a little rash and Steve Bennett - not one of my favourite referees at all - is a stickler for 'the letter of the law', so I begrudgingly accept that he was probably right with his second yellow dishing out. I still think previous reputations had gone against Muntari though.
PLAY UP POMPEY!
Pompey 1 - Benjani 53
United 1 - Paul Scholes 15
Martin Cranie (Djimi Traore 45)
Noe Pamarot (Richard Hughes 64)
Pedro Mendes (Matty Taylor 45)
Substitutes Not Used
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Date:Thursday August 16 2007
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