Monday, April 14, 2008

A hair's breadth

Portsmouth 0 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Sod's law, how you mock me. No sooner have I waxed lyrical about Little Saint Mick's rediscovered goalscoring prowess than he's guilty of what must surely be one of the worst misses of his career to date.

When the ball fell to him rather fortuitously less than six yards out on 70 minutes, it looked almost impossible to miss, but, despite knowing very little about it, David James somehow managed to deflect the shot over the bar with his hair. "It was a good week for afros", he said afterwards, "I was going to have my hair cut the other day and if I did we would have lost 1-0". Never let it be said that there's not a fine line between winning and losing - or drawing, in this case.

That brought an abrupt halt to Owen's hot streak in front of goal which had seen him score in his previous four outings. In truth, though, we had to be thankful that the in-form striker in the opposition's line-up, Jermain Defoe, arguably had a worse day. Having scored the first goal in Pompey's five previous home games, he spurned two or three very presentable opportunities in the second half. At one point, he even managed to deflect wide a goal-bound shot from his own team-mate, Glen Johnson (who, like his 'keeper James, also seems to have decided to model his hairstyle on The Jackson 5).

As was expected, with Steven Taylor recovered from illness, Kevin Keegan sent out the side that had started against Birmingham, Fulham and Spurs. In a dull first period, though, our front three failed to spark, only Obafemi Martins looking lively and testing James from range. At the other end, the closest Pompey came to grabbing the lead was when Kanu's shot was blocked by Taylor and the ball ricocheted off his hand. There was no deliberate movement on Taylor's part, though, and the shot was no longer goal-bound after it had struck his foot, so referee Phil Dowd's decision to wave away the Pompey fans' noisy appeals for a penalty was a sound one.

After the interval there were a few more chances, most notably those for Defoe, who was profiting from Abdoulaye Faye having one of those afternoons when he looks utterly unfamiliar with the concept of marking. How we managed to record a clean sheet with him repeatedly all at sea I'm not entirely sure.

Geremi continued to frustrate by whipping in some great crosses and free-kicks but still remaining incapable of beating the first man from corners, though he did also hit a fiercesome drive that James acrobatically plucked out of the air at full stretch. Meanwhile, while Nicky Butt toiled to reasonable effect, ASBO's passing let him down again and a lethargic Viduka was replaced by Alan Smith.

Given that we're all but mathematically safe, and Pompey have got one eye on their first FA Cup final for 69 years, it was always likely that an uneventful draw would be the outcome. Not dissatisfying, because we shouldn't ever grumble about achieving a shut-out, especially away from home, but if we'd had a little more drive and determination we could have nicked it. And if James had had a little less hair.

Other reports: BBC, Observer


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