Sunday, March 20, 2005

Steve Stoned - again

Once again, there was a certain inevitability about the identity of the Portsmouth player who would deny us victory at Fratton Park.

Last year it was one of our own, Lomano LuaLua, who we had foolishly allowed to line up against us for the club to which he had been loaned for the second half of the season, and who dutifully popped up to equalise Craig Bellamy's goal in the very last minute.

This time out it was Geordie Steve Stone, repeating the trick he managed at St James's Park in December by bagging an equaliser - all assisted by LuaLua's most incisive contribution of the afternoon, of course.

A point apiece was a just outcome of what was a fiercely fought but ultimately uninspiring match. We were gunning for what would have been a club record ninth successive win, but never really looked good enough to emerge with all three points.

Disappointingly, Souness opted for the very defensive midfield pairing of Butt and Faye, leaving Bowyer out on the right and JJ on the bench. Boumsong returned to partner O'Brien in the centre of defence, while Dyer continued upfront alongside Shearer, Kluivert only considered fit enough to be named among the substitutes.

The first booking came as early as the eighth minute for Pompey's Greek midfielder Giannis Skopelitis, and over the course of a bad-tempered and rambunctious match eight more players found their way into Matt Messias's book, including Carr, Bowyer, O'Brien and Butt.

The regular brandishing of the yellow card aside, the real action of the half came in the closing stages. Robert came tantalisingly close to opening the scoring when his header crashed against the bar and was cleared off the line by Pompey defender Dejan Stefanovic. Soon afterwards we were ahead, Dyer capitalising on a mistake from Linvoy Primus following a cross into the box from Lee Bowyer. The header past 'keeper Jamie Ashdown continued Dyer's pleasingly rich vein of goalscoring form since New Year.

We had only a couple of minutes to hold out before being able to take a lead into the dressing room, but in injury time LuaLua exposed familiar frailties at the back for Stone to tuck the ball past Given despite looking suspiciously offside.

Parity was no less than Portsmouth deserved given a second half in which they dominated their more illustrious opponents. We failed to threaten until late in the game when, with the home side tiring, there was a brief flurry of half-chances, none of which we took.

Away to a side desperate for points after a poor run, and having played several vital games in the space of a few weeks with barely more than a couple of days' rest in between, a draw could be regarded as a decent result, even if it did bring the winning run to an end. The fact remains, though, that despite our recent successes in the UEFA and FA Cups we need to make more progress in the league if we're to guarantee ourselves European football for next season - let's not get carried away with thoughts of claiming either cup just yet, eh? Two Premiership victories away from home tells a very frustrating story. Not enough draws have been converted to wins.

Villa's derby defeat to Birmingham today moves us up a place and into the top half of the table for the first time since November, and it's imperative that we follow in the Blues' footsteps and put David O'Leary's side to the sword in two weeks' time. It's just a shame that not all of the players will be able to enjoy rest and recuperation in that period.

Other reports:, Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian


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