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Match Reports

Portsmouth v Spurs, 01.01.07

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FA BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP
MONDAY JANUARY 1ST, 2007
PORTSMOUTH 1 (1) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (0)

Steed Malbranque celebrates the equaliser with the away support! Portsmouth scorer:-
Benjani, 29

Spurs scorer:-
Malbranque, 50

Referee: - Mr. A. Marriner

Attendance: - 20,194

Teams:-
Portsmouth (4-4-2):- James; Johnson, Primus, Campbell, Pamarot (sub Kranjcar, 12); O’Neill (Capt.) (sub Cole, 72), Davis, Mendes, Taylor; Kanu, Benjani

Subs not used: - Ashdown; O’Brien; Fernandes

Booked: - Taylor

Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson (Capt.); Chimbonda, Dawson, Davenport, Lee; Ghaly (sub Murphy, 46), Tainio, Huddlestone, Malbranque (sub Gardner, 78); Defoe, Berbatov

Subs not used: - Cerny; Ziegler; Zokora

Booked: - Tainio, Lee, Davenport, Malbranque

Despite the arrival of a New Year, some things never change. It rained upon the Spurs fans in the pre-war end of the Fratton Park stadium for the third time in our four Premiership visits. The facilities provided for visiting fans would shame a Conference club, never mind one that has been in the Premiership for four years now. (I mean come on – 8 urinals and two cubicles for 2,000 supporters is pathetic. They’ve even removed the Portaloos!) There are better refreshment facilities on any lay-by on most major roads. Isn’t it about time the Premiership clamped down on Portsmouth’s abysmal hospitality? That bloody bell was ringing throughout the 90 minutes. Pity the poor souls within 50 yards of it week-in, week-out! Sol Campbell received his traditional baiting from the visiting supporters, although the vocal support was somewhat muted today – perhaps due to the weather conditions, but more likely due to the fairly poor fare on offer in the first half.

The most dramatic change of course is the fact that Harry Redknapp has assembled a team that is genuinely challenging for one of the coveted places in Europe through League qualification. Such is the new-found confidence and expectation of the management, that Andrew Cole (who had a chuckle with the Spurs fans over his “Arsenal reject” label) was slung on in favour of skipper Gary O’Neil with 18 minutes to go, meaning that Pompey finished in a 4-3-3 formation that tested the resilient Spurs defence to the full. Martin Jol responded to that move by taking off the Spurs scorer, Steed Malbranque, re-inforcing the defence with Anthony Gardner, thus virtually giving up on any pretensions at an away victory.

Jol made one change to the starting line-up, replacing Zokora with Teemu Tainio, making a “between-injury” appearance. Thus Spurs featured the same midfield line-up that had so dominated Manchester City in our only Premiership away victory this season. The foursome did not have the same success in the first half today, but there was little action in that first half to write home about. Oh, there was plenty of “blood and guts” football, as Hossam Ghaly will testify, losing four teeth in an 85th second clash with former Spur Noe Pamarot, who was lucky not to be punished, but who had to be replaced after only 12 minutes anyway due to a self-inflicted problem. Ghaly was off the field for several minutes, but bravely fought out the rest of the half in the number 50 shirt. In a footballing sense, the Egyptian midfielder could not be accused of toothlessness at least. I understand his teeth were retrieved at half time by ground staff, and no doubt the Spurs dentist will already have started re-structuring work!

From the free kick for the foul on Ghaly, Huddlestone floated the ball across, and Dimitar Berbatov headed over the goal in front of those bell-ringing fans! Spurs did have the brighter start and James had to be quick off his line after 9 minutes to clear from the advancing Jermain Defoe. After 17 minutes, Huddlestone sent a ball down the line from close to his own bye-line, which was retrieved by Berbatov down the left. Ghaly got close to the cross, but the ball ran out of play for a goal kick. Berbatov had a shot blocked by Campbell, before Defoe headed a cross down, which bounced up and was cleared off the line.

Whilst the Portsmouth attack had kept the Spurs defence focussed, they hadn’t given Paul Robinson any trouble, with Davenport and Dawson blocking well in the middle. It was therefore against the run of play, when Benjani picked up Kranjcar’s cross from the left and hit a shot that deflected wickedly off Davenport to beat Robinson in his top left corner. Kranjcar had taken up Matthew Taylor’s left wing slot, as Taylor fell back to cover the absence of Pamarot. Portsmouth had several free kicks in dangerous territory in the remainder of the first half (and too many throughout the second in my view), but Spurs defended stoutly.

Ghaly was replaced by Murphy at the interval, and it was not long before we saw the evidence of Martin Jol’s half-time talk, with Murphy, Berbatov and Defoe sweeping forward, supported by Huddlestone and Malbranque in particular. James was kept busy in the early stages of the second half. First he made a good diving save from Davenport, who had gone up for a set-piece. Huddlestone’s kick was touched and might have been fired home by Berbatov, but he let the ball run to Davenport, whose snap shot was well saved. The Spurs fans chanted “England’s Number Four” and at the other end, Paul Robinson had acknowledged the Pompey chants of “England’s Number Two” in a good-natured way.

Steed Malbranque in action today James’ next job was to pick the ball out of the net, as Berbatov chased a long ball down the left flank, passed inside to Danny Murphy, who got to the bye-line and crossed deep to the back of the area, where Steed Malbranque headed home, and shared his joy with the away support.

Kanu had a header saved after a dodgy clearance by Davenport was returned to the box, and now Spurs were starting to collect bookings as they had to defend to the hilt against plenty of pressure, but little real threat. Davenport’s height proved to be a real foil to that of Kanu throughout the game. Tainio pushed a half chance wide from outside the box, after Berbatov’s cross reached Defoe and Malbranque within the area, but neither could quite get a shot in. It was Tainio’s ball that sent Defoe away after 70 minutes, but James’ parried save from a strong shot was cleared for a throw. From the ensuing Spurs attack, James made another great diving save from Huddlestone’s low drilled shot.

Then came the tactical switch by Redknapp, which generally took the pressure off his own defence, and brought plenty to bear upon Robinson’s goal. Free kicks were hit either into the wall or miles wide, and headers went astray, as the Spurs goal remained intact. Davenport even had a header on James’ goal cleared from a late Huddlestone cross.

Whilst it has been a disappointing festive season for Spurs, points-wise, on current form, Portsmouth is a place you come to and feel happy with a point. Martin Jol certainly played for that in the closing stages, and despite the rain, we went home happy with the result – especially when we heard the Reading-West Ham score!

Spurs now have six days to recuperate and prepare for the FA Cup clash at Cardiff on Sunday!

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