Saturday, 13 February 2010

Derby Day: The Fallout

'The fans genuinely hate each other. It's a strange hatred and I haven't known another like it.'

Harry Redknapp

He should know. As one of only two men to have managed both sides, Redknapp has spent enough time on the south coast to know that despite the seventeen miles of M27 separating the two port cities, the clubs share a mutual enmity felt as keenly as any in football. Naval rivalry, fluctuating fortunes and the sheer infrequency of their meeting explain the rivalry, which was given another airing in today's FA Cup fifth round tie at St Mary's.

Portsmouth emerged as the victors on this occasion, eventually running out 4-1 winners in a game in which League One Saints dominated large parts. But their superior work rate and commitment in the challenge in the end proved no equal to the more clinical finishing of their Premier League opponents.

Match report

FA Cup 5th round:

Saints 1 (Lambert 70) - Portsmouth 4 (Owusu-Abeyie 66, Dindane 75, Belhadj 82, O'Hara 85)

Davis, Harding, Perry (Holmes 83), Jaidi, Thomas, Lallana, Hammond, Schneiderlin, Antonio, Lambert, Papa Waigo (Barnard 72)

The match began brightly in front of a feverish St Mary's crowd. Before the game Pardew had spoken a lot about the history of the tie and that appeared to have rubbed off on his players as Saints quickly took control of proceedings. The febrile atmosphere, combined with the relentless closing down of the home side, appeared to surprise their opponents and Saints nearly got their reward midway through the first half, as Rickie Lambert looped the ball onto the head of the lively Papa Waigo. The Fiorentina loan signing, however, was unable to nod past David James, who made the first of a string of fine saves that kept Pompey in the game during the first hour.

After such a dominant first half, there was always a risk that a failure to capitalise upon it would come back to haunt Saints. A couple of misses from the ever-dynamic Adam Lallana early in the second summed up Saints' day and they started to be regularly breached by a lightning quick counter attack as the clock wound down. Such attacks were to prove their downfall, and led to the impressive substitute Quincy Owusu-Abeyie sweetly curling home the opener on 66 minutes. The lead lasted just four minutes, however, as Rickie Lambert, who was fortunately not taking this particular set piece, got on the end of a Dan Harding delivery to level the match. But as Saints continued to attack, they became more and more vulnerable to the counter and it fell to Dindane to restore the visitor's lead with fifteen minutes remaining. Saints proved unable to respond this time, with further goals from Belhadj and the excellent O'Hara piling on the pain for the home side. Given the two tiers that divide the two sides, such a result was to be expected; but those at the game and watching on TV will know it was a lot closer than the scoreline indicates.

Big Game: The Significance of the Derby

Despite the first goalless hour, this match will have left ITV bosses with few regrets for selecting it for live screening. But this particular derby will be remembered as much for the circumstances surrounding the game as for events on the field. Four years after the last derby, when a Saints side at the start of their swift slide were dismantled 4-1 at Fratton Park by a Pompey side on the cusp of FA Cup success, this match came at a moment of brilliant poetic irony - only the scoreline remains unchanged from that day. Saints, under new ownership and management, appear to be a club on the way up following a fresh start in League One. What is more, it appears certain that Pompey will be relegated from the Premier League this season and conceivable that they will go out of business altogether following a series of murky takeovers and suspect financial dealings.

Despite the loss today, that is something few Saints fans want. Given the drama on the field and off-field attention surrounding the match, it was perhaps fitting that the defining moment of the day came when the two met. A Saints fan, adorned in the comic Arab dress of a Fake Sheikh, ran onto the pitch towards the Pompey fans and waved a bunch of grubby five pound notes in their direction. Who knows when (and if) the sides will next meet, but it will surely come around sooner than this one did. In spite of the negative activities this fixture always seems to promote (fans faced up on Britannia Road after the game - the most-read article on the BBC website detailed the clashes), it is always a cracker and focuses attention on football in the south like no other. But while all Pompey fans will be dreaming of survival tonight, Saints fans will be having nightmares over a result that has extended bragging rights to Pompey fans for the foreseeable future.

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