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A Game Apart

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A Game Apart


London Evening Standard



Paddy Power

Oakwood Estates

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Pomp and circumstance combine to give FA Cup a revival Avram won't take for Granted. Now they've got Spurs or Fulham and it's Villa v Chelsea

IN case you missed it on ITV (ah, that's where they're hiding the FA Cup quarter-finals, I hear you say), Portsmouth, the world's poorest club, are through to the semi-finals of football's oldest knock-out competition.
They play the winners of the Fulham v Spurs replay (after an eminently missable quarter-final yesterday) while Aston Villa take on holders Chelsea in the other semi.
But Pompey are the focus. Incredible. The FA Cup may have passed you by this season (apart from the monumental Leeds win over Manchester United from which Leeds have never really recovered) but Pompey, in administration and rock-bottom of the Premier League, are still in there battling.
A place in the last four and a semi at Wembley won't save the club. They won the competition two years ago in a low-key final against Cardiff and still plunged into a desperate position within 18 months.
But the money they earned from yesterday's unexpected 2-0 win over a deeply unhappy Birmingham (about £1m) won't harm the club's chances of bouncing straight back up next season.
Mind you, acccording to Paul Smith in today's Sunday Mirror, Pompey will make half their staff redundant tomorrow, so serious is their financial plight.
Former Chelsea boss Avram Grant, the Israeli equally famous for his rousing massages rather than his rabble-raising messages this season, is unlikely to be there as the club battles tax bills and debts of around £70million but Pompey fans will be more concerned about whether the club can hold on to Frederic Piquionne, who got both goals yesterday.
Grant, who has struggled through the club's problems admirably, said: 'You can break many things, but you cannot break our spirit. This meant a lot to me.'
'I came into this game because of the passion and emotion. It makes me proud to see the fans so happy. I have had many happy moments but this is one of the best.'
Portsmouth go to the High Court on March 15 where the tax man will attempt to end the 112-year history of Portsmouth FC but this remarkable triumph may just help persuade people that the club is a viable concern, despite all those debts, five owners in a year and a Fratton Park ground which looks like something out of an Antiques Roadshow.
It may also help to raise the profile of a tournament which has really struggled this year. After Manchester United's failure against Leeds, Arsenal plunged out to Manchester City and last week all four fifth round replays were absent from the television as ITV preferred, understandably, to cover Chelsea's Champions League clash with Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan.
If ever a club and a competition deserved a miracle, it's the FA Cup. Come on Pompey.
I must declare an interest. My dad Bob has supported the Blues since before the war. The thought of the club folding is simply unacceptable.
So too is the thought of Portsmouth going out to Spurs, assuming they beat Roy Hodgson's stubborn Fulham in a replay people won't be rushing to watch. My old boss Hodgson knows how to ruin flowing football - he was a very average full-back but has a great footballing brain - but I can't see them surviving at White Hart Lane.
So Redknapp, the former Southampton boss who twice spent an awful lot of money at Portsmouth, will go to Wembley intent on knocking a final nail or two in a very Blue season. No guessing who I'll be backing.
Villa came from 2-0 down to see off plucky Reading 4-2, Chelsea were never really threatened by Stoke with Frank Lampard and John Terry scoring the goals in a 2-0 romp. Afterwards we were treated to a topless Terry being asked anodyne questions about the captain's armband.
Of for a decent question at that point like: "What point are you trying to make with the captain's armband John - that Fabio Capello should never have taken the England captaincy away from you for your lack of morals?"
Mind you, Carlos Tevez, the man who said Terry "would lose his legs or worse" for his tinkering with Wayne Bridge's missus, has been exposed in the Sunday Mirror today for seeing some blonde while his wife Vanesa is at home in Argentina tending to their premature child.
To be honest, the whole tabloid-footballer-sex scandal thing is getting tedious - The Sun did Patrice Evra on Saturday - just wish there wasn't a market for it.
Honest prediction for the FA Cup? Chelsea beating Spurs in the last big domestic event before the World Cup. And Arsenal sneaking up on the rails to take the Premier League crown after Manchester United's lacklustre 1-0 win over Wolves yesterday.
PPS: My good friend and chef Gavin Billenness - the next Jamie Oliver - has produced a recipe for "manly" sports nuts to try (at my request, the kids are tired of meatballs). I'll be sweating over the hot oven soon:

Labels: administration, avram grant, bankrupt, birmingham, , , Spurs, wembley final, wembley semi-final

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Battle of the Gunslingers: Wilshere the kid has the edge over Vieira the veteran... but City win, Pompey lose their Grant

MANCHESTER CITY'S predictable 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers, courtesy of a Carlos Tevez penalty and an Emmanuel Adebayor clincher, equally predictably left Owen Coyle fuming.
But those of us of an north London bent were more intrigued by the midfield battle of Gunslingers: the veteran Patrick Vieira, recently arrived at Eastlands from Inter Milan, against Luke Wilshere, on loan from Vieira's old club Arsenal.
French World Cup-winner Vieira, born in Senegal 33 years ago, still has the height but lacks the legs of his Arsenal heydays next to Emmanuel Petit and Gilberto Silva. He looked, in his second appearance back in the Premier League, like the fire which once blazed so brightly had gone out.
Yet there he was, shuffling around the pitch ahead of the superb Steve Ireland. Curious.
Wilshere, making his first start for Bolton, was dynamic, busy and feisty as he eagerly sought to help Wanderers recover from the early penalty.
It came when the excellent Adam Johnson, the former Middlesbrough winger with one eye on a shock place in England's World Cup squad, was brought down by Paul Robinson.
But in the end it was Vieira's inch-perfect long-ball for another former Arsenal man, Emmanuel Adebayor, that clinched it as the Togo striker, caught up in the Cabinda shootings, made it 2-0 with a brilliant finish.
And that was it. Game, set and match to Vieira, despite his advancing years. Shortly afterwards Wilshere was taken off in the 77th minute - with Andy Gray admitting on Sky: "He brings quality to this side. He's a neat, tidy footballer."
Makes you wonder why the young Englishman isn't still at the Emirates Stadium playing ahead of expensive foreign non-entities like Denilson, Tomas Rosicky and Samir Nasri. But who am I to tell Arsene Wenger how to pick his side?
Vieira said: "It was hard but do I look that old? Obviously we're strong enough to finish in the top four."
Coyle, who abandoned Burnley for Bolton in January, felt his side were denied two penalties and claimed: "All the decisions went against us."
At Portsmouth, boss Avram Grant was sent off in their 1-1 draw against Sunderland. Grant, caught up in a Thai Massage row in recent days, rubbed referee Kevin Friend up the wrong way after seeing Ricardo Rocha sent off.
Friend originally showed Algerian Hassan Yebda the red card for the challenge which led to Darren Bent's goal (above) from the penalty spot - but, as a true Friend should do, he did the right thing and sent off the right man. But Grant was fuming and his half-time rant was enough to consign him to the grandstand, where he struggled to find a seat.
Sunderland had Cattermole sent off in the second half but even with ten versus ten, rock-bottom Pompey, facing a winding-up order today, couldn't find the net.
It was only when David Mayler's dismissal left Sunderland with nine they found the space for Jamie O'Hara to set up Aruna Dindane for the late, late equaliser.
Grant gathered his players in a huddle at the whistle and said: "I cannot fight against all the world."
Fulham had few problems, scoring three without reply against Burnley, much to my old coach Roy Hodgson's relief. Danny Murphy, David Elm and Bobby "Bobatov" Zamora got the goals at Craven Cottage.
Hardly a shock result though. Burnley last triumphed at Fulham when they were both Third Division clubs in October, 1980. Burnley's first scorer in a 2-0 win that night was an 18-year-old Brian Laws - now a very worried manager on the way home to Turf Moor.
At the JJB, Wigan went ahead through Paul Scharner but Tuncay levelled for Stoke in a 1-1 draw.
Oh, and what about the much-neglected Johnsons Paints Northern final? Leeds, slowly subsiding after their FA Cup shock over Manchester United, contrived to lose it and Carlisle will go to Wembley despite losing the match 3-2 on the night.
That result left the tie at 4-4 after extra-time and Carlisle won the penalty shoot-out 6-5 in sudden-death with defender Shane Lowry, on loan from Aston Villa, having the crucial spot-kick blocked by Adam Collin.
Greg Abbott, clearly in shock, said afterwards: "We have competed against a massive club and won. The penalty shoot-out was pretty scary but that's Carlisle all over."
Southampton join them in the final after being MK Dons 3-1 in the Southern Final at St Mary's to take the tie 4-1 on aggregate.
Best story of the night? West Brom - 2-0 winners against Scunthorpe - went top of the Championship on goal difference from Newcastle, beaten 3-0, yes 3-0 at Derby. What? The Rams were 18th in the table! Surely the Toon can't mess up their promotion charge now?

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Liverpool bitten by Lyon... now for the Europa League

DEPENDING which paper you read, Liverpool lost anything from £10m to £40m last night when they failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
Quite how that odd American couple, Gillette and Hicks, will take this loss of earnings on their Anfield investment is not yet known. But under-fire boss Rafa Benitez, now talking about winning the Europa League, knows he's got a job on his hands.
Sure, the Reds won 1-0 at pointless Debrecen but with Lyon understandably losing 1-0 at Fiorentina, qualification from Group E is now beyond them. Would you want to win or draw if it meant going to Anfield and playing for your lives?
Poor old Liverpool. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have been battling injury all season and they're a modest 7th in the Premier League, five points behind Spurs in fourth. We won't even mention the beach ball.
Dramatically, Sky Sports 2 showed Gerrard watching the final minutes of the game in Fiorentina on a screen in the tunnel at the Ferenc Puskas stadium in Budapest. Gutted. He didn't stop to talk when the whistle went. Later he said: "You get what you deserve in football. The disappointing thing was having to rely on other people. We have played well today but now we have to try and move on, build on tonight and, with a lot of players coming back from injury, try and win the Europa League.
"Of course its disappointing. The Champions League is the main trophy at the start of the season but the only consolation now is to try and win the Europa League."
And Benitez emerged briefly to say: "I am 100% confident we will finish in the top four in the Premier League this season."
And all this while Arsenal were merrily skipping through to the last 32 with a game to spare. Their 2-0 win over Belgium's Standard Liege came courtesy of welcome goals for the returning Denilson and Samir Nasri (pictured).
Quite an improvement after Saturday's demoralising 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sunderland and their former Spurs striker Darren Bent. No need to mention the two penalties turned down in front of the Emirates crowd... or the double rattling of the woodwork by the Belgians, who had a man sent off late on. Funny how we don't notice these things when English clubs are winning. Former Gunner Paul Merson did. He pointed out in the Sky studios: "What worries me is they were dominant throughout but they still could have lost this game. Liege had a stonewall penalty and a couple of clear chances. Any team that plays Arsenal knows they're always in with a chance, they can always nick a goal."
Another small point before the London showdown against Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday: William Gallas took a nasty blow to the eye and looked concussed after clashing heads with Andrei Arshavin, while Kieran Gibbs limped off with what looked like a recurrence of his ankle injury. But still, they're through for the 10th season in a row, joining Chelsea and Manchester United, whatever they do tomorrow night.
Rangers are out too, beaten 2-0 by Stuttgart... and they don't even get the consolation of a late place in the Europa League as they finish bottom of Group G.
The good news for UEFA came in Spain where Barcelona eased the threat of non-qualification with a 2-0 win over Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan in fascinating Group F. Rumours of Thierry "Hand of Gaul" Henry diving twice in the first half have yet to be confirmed.
Bad news for Portsmouth fans with manager Paul Hart departing (former Chelsea boss Avram Grant is waiting in the wings), good news for Wycombe, the Division One strugglers, who followed up their shock 2-0 win at Millwall with a 1-0 win over Brentford last night.

Labels: barcelona, , debrecen, , lyon, , , world cup, Wycombe