The Great Escape

Here we go then! April, a month that will go down in Pompey folklore for what was achieved during that time among all the highs and lows throughout the entire season that could be summed up in just this month alone. We start at Craven Cottage:

01/04/06: Matchday #32: Fulham 1 Pompey 3

Fulham had a notorious home record this season and had just beaten Chelsea in their last home game so we knew how tough this game was going to be or how tough it should have been anyway. The game kicked off, Pompey get a throw in and throw to Benjani who runs down the left wing and crosses into the box where suprisingly Pompey arch-enemy Wayne Bridge completely mistimes a clearance and the ball lands at Gary O'Neil's feet and despite the mishit, he scores and Pompey are already a goal up within the first minute of the game! Pompey fans who arrived late must have thought it was an April Fools joke when they entered to a cheering mob of fans in blue that rocked one end of Craven Cottage.

Fulham weren't going to take that lying down and would be level after a cracking goal from Steed Malbranque. The Pompey side of old would no doubt have capitulated and Fulham would have gone on to win but this new side had plenty of fight in it and continued to attack with purpose. Not long before half time Benjani won a flick on header into the path of Lua Lua who had broken the Fulham defence and produced a quality finish to once again put Pompey in the lead. This was a great game as both sides searched for another goal and if you need luck to survive in the top flight then our third goal would be proof of that as Gary O'Neil hit a shot that took a deflection off of Christanval and looped over Jamie Ashdown lookalike Mark Crossley. Fulham would then have Michael Brown sent off for a nasty lunge on former team-mate Sean Davis (who earlier missed a sitter) and despite creating a couple of really decent chances before the end, Pompey kept Fulham at bay and would hold on for a very well deserved three points as the crowd once again started to chant the name of Harry Redknapp.

08/04/06: Matchday #33: Pompey 2 Blackburn Rovers 2

Our first home game in a month (again) would see the visit of Champions League chasing Blackburn come down south in another decent match. I'm sure if Craig Bellamy hadn't have been playing we would have won easily but hindsight is a fine thing and play he did. Rovers went ahead when Bellamy ran half the pitch past the Pompey defence to fire in a goal wide from the left of the pitch. One down once again all thanks to a single player who had probably carried his team through most of the match as the rest of them didn't look like anything special in a game where Brad Friedel afterwards "they were battered". Pompey would fight back via the man on fire Lomana Lua Lua who lashed in an equaliser from outside the box as both sides went in equal at half time. Pompey were definately the better side as the second half progressed but top class players will punish you for any chance you give them and once Bellamy had the ball in the box and turned you just knew we were going to be hit with a suckerpunch again. Rovers lead but kept defending deeper and deeper as Pompey pressed and eventually got their reward when a cross was met by the head of Toddy who provided the equaliser as the game finished two a piece. Not ideal but at least our unbeaten run was extended another game.

12/04/06: Matchday #31 Postponement: Pompey 1 Arsenal 1

The midweek evening rearranged fixture saw now Champions League Semi-Finalists Arsenal return to Fratton Park intent on taking all three points as their team sheet suggested with Theirry Henry playing his part as expected. Henry would have a big impact on the game and put Arsenal head with one of his typical finishes and the game could have been over if Emmanuel Adebayor remembered where the goal was. Once again our team would comeback in the second half as D'Alessandro whipped in a great cross met by the man on form Lua Lua once again who headed in the equaliser. This would be the last game he would play this season as his celebration caused ankle damage that would rule him out the rest of the season. Sol Campbell went off with a bleeding nose, Arsene Wenger moaned some more but it finished 1-1 which was a fair reflection of the game as our unbeaten run continued.

15/04/06: Matchday #34: Pompey 1 Middlesbrough 0

This game had a bit of a "must-win" feel about it giving that Boro were playing a much weaker side to focus on the cups and the fact we always seem to beat them at Fratton Park. This game was as scrappy as you'd expect with nerves playing a big part. Yakubu got booed every time he was on the ball, whether they were genuine or just an attempt to unsettle him I'm not sure however they seemed to do the trick as he barely posed a threat all game. Gary O'Neil would score the eventual winner although there was a real heart in mouth moment when David Wheater put the ball wide from two yards in the dying seconds of the game. Still, this was a vital victory and for the first time in what felt like forever, Pompey climbed out of the bottom three to pile the pressure on Birmingham and West Brom.

17/04/06: Matchday #35: Charlton Athletic 2 Pompey 1

Even writing this now, I still can't believe how we had managed to lose this game. Everything was going so well at The Valley when Andres D'Alessandro scored an absolute beauty (that I thought was going over) late on in the first half and we looked comfortable practically all game playing some really good football, defending very well and creating really good chances, chances that we should have scored. Pompey would rue those misses after 70 minutes as Darren Bent would get the better of Taylor and Pamarot and cross for Bryan Hughes to score a tap in. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in disbelief as I said "What the hell just happened!?" and not long after the robbery was complete when Darren Bent broke the defence himself and finished well to put the ball past ex-addick Dean Kiely. Pompey fans left The Valley absolutely gutted wondering how we had let as comfortable a 1-0 lead you could ever have turn into defeat. At least Sunderland would give us a chance to bounce back immediately from this disappointment.

22/04/06: Matchday #36: Pompey 2 Sunderland 1

The "must-win" cliches were out in full force once again as already relegated Sunderland were welcomed to Fratton Park with an almighty points tally of ten. Similar to the Boro game this was a very cagey affair with not many chances created and plenty of stoppages. Drawing at half-time, we needed to take the initiative in the next 45 minutes to realistically stop the mackems dragging us down to the Championship with them. Brian Priske would get caught out and the break was on for Sunderland who had men forward in numbers and Tommy Miller scores a tap in. Bollocks....

Full credit to everyone in a blue shirt for managing to turn this around as they were used to doing all month. It took all of three minutes for Toddy to yet again score a vital goal in the bid for survival. Fratton Park once again exploded into life to will Pompey to score a winner no matter how it came. Two minutes from time the home side win a corner and the ball is delivered into the box only for Kevin Kyle to think he was playing basketball for a second as the crowd shouted "handball!" and the ref pointed to the spot as Fratton Park celebrated the first league penalty award this season as if it had already been scored. Up steps Matthew Taylor who cooly smashes it to the left of the goal to get a vital victory for Portsmouth Football Club! Fans cheered the final whistle once again as Birmingham and West Brom fans began to sweat.. they knew they could be relegated next week whilst fate was in our own hands heading to the JJB Stadium.

29/04/06: Matchday #37: Wigan Athletic 1 Pompey 2

There's so much to say about this game that I won't be able to fit it all in as this article is long enough as it is! Refer to the link below if you want to relive the game again. If not, the picture below the table tells its own story. The Great Escape had been complete!

http://www.portsmouth-mad.co.uk/news/loadnews.asp?cid=TMNW&id=280925

Premiership Table After Matchday #37

15th: Middlesbrough: 43pts
16th: Aston Villa: 39pts
17th: Portsmouth: 38pts
18th: Birmingham: 34pts
19th: West Brom: 29pts
20th: Sunderland: 12pts