Dynamite Diarra and Defoe Double Destroy ‘Boro
Middlesbrough visited Fratton Park this afternoon in a game that saw the in-form Teessiders match up against their rejuvenated South Coast opponents. Portsmouth came into this match with a new confidence after their award-winning away victory against Everton two weeks ago, and Harry Redknapp’s success as “England” manager last Sunday at Wembley.
Redknapp opted for the same team that defeated Everton in an attempt to reverse the scoreline from last year’s fixture, which meant that Armand Traore kept his place ahead of Nadir Belhadj on the left wing. The Algerian had to be content with a place on the bench, where he was joined by David Nugent, who was brought in to replace the injured Ben Sahar. For Middlesbrough, newly crowned Manager of the Month Gareth Southgate made three changes to the starting eleven, with Mido, Riggott and Digard replacing Tuncay, Wheater and Shawky.
The game got underway in baking sunshine at Fratton Park, with Pompey starting the livelier of the two teams. Portsmouth pushed forward from the off, with Defoe and Crouch threatening to break ‘Boro’s defensive line. After only four minutes, however, Jeremie Aliadiere, of Arsenal fame, broke free on the right and delivered a low ball into the centre for Afonso Alves. The 12 million pound man looked certain to score, but was quite clearly clipped by an erratic lunge by Sol Campbell. The Portsmouth captain was in luck, however, as the referee waved his first of many “play on” hand signals, to the relief of the Fratton faithful.
Portsmouth soon regained the momentum, and mildly pressured the Middlesbrough defence with balls played through the middle, which were to no avail as Jermain Defoe seemed tempted by the World Record for the most number of offside’s in one half. ‘Boro’s only threat came with long, “Huth”ed balls up for Alves and Mido, with the latter having the first attempt of the match when his tame header breezed over David James’ crossbar. From the goal kick Pompey also had their first shot, with Defoe showing nice control before having a powerful, low, left footed drive that was unfortunately straight at Turnbull in the ‘Boro goal.
On 23 minutes, Middlesbrough’s long ball tactic worked, with Campbell and Kaboul both leaping for the same ball, which resulted in both centre-backs missing the ball, which cannoned off of Mido’s back into the path of Afonso Alves. The young Brazilian then nicely squared for Mido to comfortably place the ball past James and into the net. The Egyptian striker then preceded to headbutt the corner flag, much to the annoyance of the home fans.
The Portsmouth team seemed to wake up after going behind, and Jermain Defoe latched onto a Peter Crouch knockdown, before coming together with a ‘Boro keeper and defender resulted in the England striker receiving the game’s first yellow card. Glen Johnson showed some nice touches in beating Pogatetz down the right flank; unfortunately his cross couldn’t beat any defenders, and was easily cleared. Traore broke down the left wing a few times, but his crosses were easily collected by Turnbull. Middlesbrough weren’t creating anything; with Lassana Diarra in particular picking up the loose balls fantastically well before moving them on to the wing-backs. There was just enough time for Papa Bouba Diop to attempt a conversion from distance, before blazing wide with his left foot seconds before the break.
Middlesbrough would have definitely gone into the break the happier of the two teams, with Portsmouth bemoaning their defensive error and lack of penetration. Harry Redknapp used the break to make significant changes, with John Utaka coming on and Nadir Belhadj making his debut, in a substitution that reverted the formation back to the more traditional 4-4-2. Younes Kaboul and Papa Bouba Diop were the players to make way.
Nadir Belhadj immediately lived up to the hype by linking up well with Traore on the left, before beating Aliadiere and making a run from box to box, where he played the ball to Crouch, who failed to make the most of the opportunity. Utaka made a lively run up the right, before winning a throw in off of Pogatetz. From the throw, Jermain Defoe made a jinxing run towards the goal, before being felled by a ‘Boro centre back. The Portsmouth fans were adamant that it was a penalty, but the referee waved his hands all over the place before shaking his head and indicating for a goal kick.
I have to admit that it did look like a penalty, and I was just as angry as the next person that we were denied a spot kick, but I couldn’t help drawing the similarities of the FA Cup tie against Man Utd where Distin stopped Ronaldo inside the box.
The Pompey fans were less than impressed with Stuart Attwell, and he didn’t help things when he ignored a heavy push on Crouch from a Distin throw in. The Fratton Faithful, who were without John Westwood, who was absent as he protested against the no-standing rule, were angry again minutes later as Crouch seemed to have been pulled by several red shirts before he played the ball back to Campbell. This turned out to be a good decision for Pompey, as Crouch quickly moved into a good position before playing a fine through ball to Defoe, who finished it off finely on the turn, with the ball sneaking in via the near post. The Portsmouth fans were ecstatic, and the teams were level right on the hour mark.
The home side then pressured forth once more, with John Utaka and Sean Davis both missing the target. Middlesbrough could obviously feel the pressure, with midfielder Didier Digard coming off for the England U-21 left back, Andrew Taylor. This move almost worked immediately for Southgate, as Downing broke down the left, only for his cross to bypass everyone in the box. Another ball over the top from ‘Boro forced David James to rush out of his area, but luckily the England goalkeeper got to the ball before the striker.
Portsmouth kept coming forward, with Nadir Belhadj climbing aboard the “Showboat”, with some exceptional skill. From a corner, Glen Johnson picked up the ball from outside of the area, and tried to take it out wide. Unfortunately he was brought down on the edge of the area, but Stuart Attwell was quick to halt play and give the Portsmouth right-back a yellow card for his efforts. I think its fair to say that Mido wasn’t too happy with Johnson’s fall, and he certainly let him know it, earning himself a yellow card in process. My view was blocked for the challenge, but considering Johnson’s “tumble” in the first half that earned Portsmouth a free-kick, I can believe that he would dive in an attempt to win a penalty.
Several minutes later, and ‘Boro themselves were appealing for a penalty, as Downing was felled by Belhadj just inside the area, but yet again the Referee waved play on. Southgate was very animated on the sidelines at this decision, but it certainly wasn’t as clear-cut as the challenge on Defoe earlier in the half. John Utaka was then released down the right, and the Nigerian promptly played Defoe in. The England striker showed good skill to beat one man, but unfortunately his cross was just deflected wide of the far post by a defender. After signalling for a goal kick, the referee then gave in to the abuse from the Fratton End and signalled correctly for a corner, which Turnbull calmly collected.
As the game entered into the last ten minutes, both managers decided it was time for a change. Armand Traore seemed to have been carrying a knock all half, so was replaced by Hermann Hreidarsson, with Adam Johnson coming on in place of Mido for ‘Boro.
The substitution seemed to work for Portsmouth, as, three minutes from time, a cross was cleared as far as Crouch, and after a bit of head tennis, the ball was dinked over Huth’s head, and was met perfectly on the volley by Jermain Defoe. The goal was just as much as Portsmouth deserved, and naturally the fans went delirious.
Despite there being four minutes of added on time, the Middlesbrough players looked beaten, and Portsmouth gladly pressed on for a third. Jermain Defoe beat the offside trap, but unfortunately he was on the wrong foot, and could only force Turnbull to put the ball behind for a corner. Good play between Crouch and Defoe released Belhadj, who, in acres of space, chose to unselfishly square the ball for Defoe, who’s tame left foot scuff was cleared off of the line by Andrew Taylor. In the final minute Defoe got another chance, but his dramatic overhead kick failed to hit the target.
After the final whistle, the Portsmouth players all stayed on the pitch to applaud the fans, who stuck with the team for the whole game, and it deservedly paid off.
Defoe took his goals well, especially the second one, and thoroughly deserved his brace, but his performance was overshadowed by that of Lassana Diarra, who was absolutely fantastic. The France international was on top form, and we might have a problem keeping hold of him when it comes to January. Then again, £130m from City wouldn’t go amiss?
Belhadj lived up to the expectation that was created by Belhadjinho, and looks like he might start against Vitoria SC Guimaraes if Traore’s thigh hasn’t recovered in time. Sean Davis put in 100% again, and had two good chances; unfortunately he couldn’t find the finish. The centre-backs didn’t really get a mention in the report – apart from the goal – which is always a good sign as it shows that they didn’t give the opposition any chances and kept them quiet.
John Utaka might not have played amazingly, but he showed signs of brilliance, and he did what we wanted him to do – run at the defence. He might not have shone like Diarra, and his final ball might not be up to scratch, but this performance was a massive improvement on his last Fratton Park outing against Man Utd.
It was really good to see that we have flexibility in our line-up. We changed from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2 with no real problems, and its confidence boosting to know that we have alternatives should 3-5-2 not be as effective against a certain opposition. This is hugely due to the two left wing-backs that we have, they’ve added an extra dimension to our team.
Gary O’Neil was kept quiet by our midfield all afternoon. I bet he was gutted! As the fans put it “You used to play for a good team!”
Next up is Vitoria SC at Fratton Park on Thursday. It`s an early kick off, but who cares – it`s our first EVER game in Europe. Hopefully we can pull of a result and take a lead back to Portugal.
Portsmouth: James, Kaboul (Belhadj 46), Campbell, Distin, Johnson, Diop (Utaka 46), Davis, Diarra, Armand Traore (Hreidarsson 84), Crouch, Defoe.
Subs Not Used: Ashdown, Nugent, Pamarot, Mvuemba.
Booked: Defoe, Johnson.
Goals: Defoe 59, 86.
Middlesbrough: Turnbull, Hoyte, Huth, Riggott, Pogatetz, Aliadiere, O’Neil, Digard (Taylor 70), Downing, Alves, Mido (Adam Johnson 84).
Subs Not Used: Jones, Wheater, Porritt, Walker, Craddock.
Goals: Mido 24.
Referee: Stuart Attwell.
PLAY UP POMPEY!
Pompey 2-1 Boro
Dynamite Diarra and Defoe Double Destroy ‘Boro