Glensider At Portsmouth
Attendance: 19 073
Another away trip, our third in ten days, and we jumped into the car for our trip down to the south coast, celebrating the fact that we all have very understanding better halves, and also in buoyant mood because a sixth successive away victory in the premier league would see us equal on points at the top of the table, should our old adversaries from Sandwell manage to beat Manchester United at The Hawthorns. Of course things are never that straightforward, certainly never when Aston Villa Football Club is involved, but it was a nice thought to whet our appetites, and get the juices flowing, and would certainly make the haul back to Brum later tonight, considerably more enjoyable should the results go our way.
The trek down to Pompey was fairly uneventful, the miles passing by as we put the world to rights, solved all the global problems, elimitated poverty and hunger, spent millions of Randy's money on 'improvements' for the team, and once again proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that we could all manage the team so much better than Martin O'Neill.
A couple of 'refreshment' stops and a non-stop diet of Beatles music to keep us rockin' and rollin', saw the miles eaten up fairly quickly, and we rolled into Pompey at just after 5.00 p.m., perfect timing to allow us to enjoy a few more 'refreshments', if only to get the vocal chords sufficiently lubricated for the evenings entertainment.
News reached us regarding Martin's line-up, and the big(?) surprise was that Craig Gardner was replacing Steve Sidwell, while Emile Heskey was named to make his debut, the injured Nigel Reo-Coker missing out altogether. Good to see Luke Young back after his one game ban.
Friedel, Cuellar, Knight, Davies, Luke Young, Gardner, Petrov, Barry, Milner, Agbonlahor, Heskey.
Subs: Guzan, Sidwell, Harewood, Delfouneso, Salifou, Shorey
Inside the stadium the traveling claret and blue army were once again out in force, a tremendous turnout considering it was a mid-week night game, a fair distance from Brum, and the temptation to remain at home and watch the game live on television must have been very inviting.
The atmosphere created by the home lot though was somewhat muted. I guess a few defeats and an alarming slide down the table will do that to you. You have to feel for their supporters. While you always felt over the past couple of seasons that they were punching above their weight in the premiership, it really has all gone downhill, and fast, for them, since their F.A. Cup Final victory at Wembley Stadium last May. That glorious day, must seem like a million light years away right now for supporters of the Fratton Park club. There's little doubt that ahead of them now stands a very difficult four months of football, with results having to improve, and fast, if they are to avoid being involved in a very tense relegation fight.
Fratton Park is never an easy ground to visit at the best of times, and over the years we've certainly enjoyed little success there. Off-hand we could only recollect us winning there once, and that in the forty years or so we've been regularly attending away games. After their F.A. Cup exit this past weekend we were expecting something of a backlash, and with their usually passionate home support behind them, we expected a testing ninety minutes plus of action.
The early exchanges were short on both shape and passion, and it took all of fifteen minutes or so before we had our first shot at goal, but Stan Petrov's effort lacked both direction and power.
Pompey new boy Mullins saw his shot deflected wide, but just when it looked as if Pompey were starting to get their act together, debutant Emile Heskey opened his Villa account to put us 1-0 up, latching onto Gabby's flick on to bury the ball past David James. We learned after the game from talking with the locals, that he had scored Wigan's winner in that very same goal, late last year.
We were in complete control against a very average Portsmouth team, and the only concern we had was the fact that we were unable to add to our slender lead. Pompey surely couldn't be as bad as this in the second half?
Gabby should have doubled our lead on forty minutes, when he was clean through on goal, with only James to beat.
Sadly he dragged his effort woefully wide, when if he'd have squared the ball across to the unmarked Emile Heskey, we'd have gone in at the break two goals to the good.
One more first half incident to mention was a booking for Pompey's Belhadj, who very fortunately only received a yellow for chopping down Craig Gardner from behind, when surely a straight red, for violent conduct, was the only course open to the ref?
Younes Kaboul replaced Sol Campbell at the break for the home team. Kaboul had been heavily linked with us back in the summer of 2008 you may recall. Can I say here and now how glad I am that he ended up on the south coast and not at Villa Park. They are very welcome to him.
Our old adversary Jermaine Pennant looked to be one of their best hopes for sparking a revival, and on fifty minutes he brought out the best in Brad Friedel, a fine save though ensured our lead remained intact.
Ten minutes or so later Pennant drilled the ball across goal to the unmarked Crouch, who from five yards out, only had to blow the ball home, but inexplicably he somehow managed to balloon his effort over the bar.
Pompey were really pushing now, racking up the corner count, but we were defending stoutly, and looking dangerous on the break. A much improved second half showing from the home lot though.
On sixty-five minutes Mart sent on Steve Sidwell to replace young Craig Gardner, who I felt had given a pretty decent account of himself.
Five minutes later the yellow carded Belhadj belatedly received the red that his first half misdemeanour deserved, collecting his marching orders for presumably cussing out the linesman after a decision went against him.
Milly put in a decent effort from twenty-five yards, the chance arriving after David James had foiled an Emile Heskey break, but still that match clinching second goal wouldn't come. My good buddy Gary told me not to worry, that Pompey wouldn't score in a month of Sundays, or words to that effect, but whenever he makes such confident observations, disaster nearly always follows.
Curtis Davies headed a decent opportunity over the bar, Pompey responding by winning yet another corner kick, a corner kick that once again proved totally fruitless. I was starting to think that friend Gary was spot on with his confident prediction.
Stan picked up a booking, his fifth of the campaign, meaning that he'll sit out next weeks F.A. Cup replay against Doncaster Rovers. Could have been much worse.
Nicky Shorey came on to replace Emile, who received a great reception from behind James' goal, and while there was time for Milly to get booked, and for Pompey sub Utaka to burst into our box but fail to pull the trigger, for three minutes of injury time to be played, that was basically it for the night.
Our sixth successive away win, three more points, a clean sheet, a debut goal for Emile, who showed himself to be a very useful central defender too whenever he came back to help deal with corners, and a very pleasant drive home ahead of us.
Yes, a good time was had by all.
Gentlemen, at 3.30 a.m I'm now heading off to bed. Been a long day. Bring on Wigan!