Sunday, September 27

When the going gets tough


Grant salutes Portsmouth players and fans after Cup shock

LONDON: Portsmouth manager Avram Grant said the team’s shock 2-0 FA Cup semi-final victory over Tottenham was a just reward for the crisis club’s long-suffering players and fans.Victory in extra-time, secured by goals from Frederic Piquionne and a penalty from former Spurs midfielder Kevin Prince-Boateng, sent Pompey into their second FA Cup final in three years just a day after the cash-strapped side were relegated from the Premier League.

But despite debts of more than 76 million pounds and several first team players only returning from injury this week, Portsmouth more than matched a Tottenham side chasing Champions League football.

And their win meant the south coast club were into their second FA Cup final in three years, having lifted the trophy when Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp was their manager in 2008.

“This is more than football this season,” Grant told reporters. “These fans this year, I will not forget it all my life. This achievement belongs to the fans and the players. The players did not give up and these fans show how fans need to be.”

Grant added: “We had another injury in training yesterday (Saturday) with Nadir Belhadj and several players played out of position.

“But we played football, scored two goals and I could not ask for anything more.”

Portsmouth had their Premier League fate all but sealed last month when the club were docked nine points for entering administration after a season of boardroom chaos that has seen several owners come and go at Fratton Park.

Now several players could miss the May 15 final against double contenders Chelsea – the club Grant managed when they lost the 2008 Champions League final to Manchester United – because of financial clauses in their contracts which, if activated, Portsmouth could no longer afford.

“I think every day since I came to this club, I needed to ask so many questions about contracts, points deducted and administration,” Grant said. “For one day, I want to speak only about football.”

Portsmouth’s victory may have come a day after their demotion from the top flight but it also came a day before their Israeli manager was due to travel to Poland for the annual ‘March of the Living’, a memorial event for victims of the Holocaust during the Second World War.

Grant had a similar experience two years ago when he travelled to Poland the day after Chelsea’s 2008 Champions League semi-final win over Liverpool.

“It’s emotional,” said Grant, whose family saw several relatives killed in the Holocaust. “For me this is the second time this has happened, it’s more than symbolic.”

Meanwhile, Redknapp branded the much criticised Wembley pitch a “disgrace” after Spurs defender Michael Dawson slipped in the build-up to Piquionne’s opener.

“The pitch is a disgrace. I won’t use the pitch as a excuse because it was the same for both teams,” said Redknapp.

“But for any professional team to have to play football on that is farcical. How can you play on a pitch you can’t stand up on?”

Tottenham missed several chances, with former Pompey striker Peter Crouch leading the way although the England striker, minutes after Piquionne had broken the deadlock, did have a ‘goal’ disallowed after Niko Kranjcar, another ex-Portsmouth player, was ruled to have shoved goalkeeper David James.

“It wasn’t our day. We had opportunities but we couldn’t stick one away,” said Redknapp.

“It was a good goal that we had disallowed, I’ve watched it four or five times but that’s how it goes.

“Full credit to Portsmouth, they were always dangerous on the counter-attack and had pace. Credit too to Avram Grant. He’s done a great job because they were well set up and organised.”

Grant backed Redknapp’s comments about the pitch but said: “I agree with Harry, but now I don’t care.” — AFP