Job done

Last updated : 11 January 2005 By Keith Allman
I'm delighted to say that the tide finally seems to be turning for us in cup competitions. Time was that we would gloriously crash out at the first available opportunity; if we didn't do it embarrassingly (Colchester, Orient) then it would always be against some middle-of-the-road bunch like Forest or Tranmere. And of course, that's just bad news for everyone - if you get knocked out you want it to be against one of the big guns, not someone who you could possibly beat on another day.

FA Cup, League Cup - it didn't make a difference. If there was silverware to be won at end, chances are we'd self-destruct early doors. But now, it seems we've finally got the hang of these things. Look at last season when we got to the quarter final, potentially tricky ties against Blackpool and Scunthorpe were negotiated but in the end we got through, and that's what matters. Earlier this season in the League Cup we saw off Leeds, as well as travelling to Cardiff and Tranmere - not easy places to go - and coming back with the win.

And that seems to be the difference these days. We weren't fantastic by any stretch of the imagination today. The backline kept things tight, Ashdown made a couple of decent saves, the strikers were full of running, but nothing extraordinary. But that's just fine. The fact that we don't have to knacker and exhaust ourselves, yet can still win, is what we need to be aiming for. Being professional in the early rounds is something that deserts a lot of Premiership teams (four were knocked out today, whilst three will face replays) and no-one wants to be the victim of a giant killing. I said before the match that all that mattered was getting through with as little fuss as possible and, had it not been for Andy Griffin's hamstring injury, it would've been a perfect afternoon in that respect.

I'm quite happy just to quietly whisk through the early rounds. Last season no-one cared when we were progressing by the odd goal, until we got drawn against Liverpool and then Arsenal. Making sure you don't become a big scalp and - crucially - avoiding a replay, is the name of the game.

Today, I thought Berger was outstanding. His continual long shots are starting to have a whiff of Quashie-esque desperation about them but, when you've scored such good goals as he has, you can't blame him for trying. Yakubu deserved his goal and worked hard, especially out wide - the three pronged attack was clearly upsetting Gillingham from the off, and all the lads up front (Kamara, Yak and Fuller) can give themselves a pat on the back. Ricardo is still getting abuse from people just for the hell of it, although he showed some nice touches today and did well to get good headers on a couple of corners even though the defender had the upper hand. Playing out wide he was never likely to get on the scoresheet but it won't be long until he nicks one and gets back in the groove. Remember, it was the Third Round of the cup last season where Yak scored off his arse against Blackpool to end his goal drought, and I reckon it'll take something similar for Fuller to get back on the goalscoring trail - well, as long as the whinging fans give him time.

It was also nice to see Hughes given a chance in the midfield after the recent dominance of Faye, Quashie and Mezague and, as you would expect, he didn't let anyone down without being overly awesome. Indeed, that's an observation you could make of the team as a whole.

Yeah, so some people were leaving the ground unhappy that we hadn't thrashed a team near the bottom of Division One. Based on our scintilating play at the start of the second half, we really could've done. But racking up a cricket score isn't what matters, and getting through the game unscathed is. We're in the hat for the next round, although now we have to concentrate on what REALLY matters when Blackburn come to Fratton next Saturday.