Sunday, 11 April 2010

Portsmouth serve justice on Harry: Finally it's a miracle as Spurs are beaten 2-0 at Wembley

FOOTBALLING justice, when it occasionally strikes, can be a wonderful thing. Harry Redknapp, consider yourself judged by the soccer gods on high.

At Wembley today, Portsmouth’s 2-0 FA Cup semi-final victory over high-flying, big-spending Spurs was not just a miracle for the world’s poorest club (the Fratton Park bank overdraft stands at something like £60m) it was also a deserved slap in the face for their former boss Redknapp (right).

Relegated on Saturday, FA Cup finalists on Sunday. Some story.

Look, Harry’s a lovely bloke. Any football fan, any sports journalist will tell you that. He’s funny, approachable, knowledgeable. As a coach he’s a delight. As a manager, he is every agent’s best mate.

Two years ago, he lifted the FA Cup for Portsmouth in a forgettable final against Cardiff City. Then he left for Spurs and lifted them from the Juande Ramos nadir at the foot of the Premier League to their current slot, challenging for fourth.

Incredible. But along the way, his spending was instrumental in Portsmouth’s current demise. Bottom of the Premier League and officially relegated last week after their nine-point deduction for going into administration, Harry cannot escape the blame nor can his mate and Portsmouth chief executive Peter Storrie. The pair of them spent money like water, money Pompey didn’t have, despite a succession of owners.

That his former club, with no apparent chance, should put him out of the FA Cup is pure fairy tale. I went down to see this Pompey side crushed 5-0 by Chelsea the other night ( they were hopeless, rudderless. And they couldn’t even fill the bench.

This is a club busily sacking every staff member not considered vital. Gatemen, drivers, physios. Every player is up for sale according to the administrator, some of them are not allowed to play because further appearances will lead to payments to clubs they are on loan from.

Manager Avram Grant, another former FA Cup winner, has gone from the millions on offer at Chelsea to zilch, nada, nix. But he’s got his ailing side to the oldest, most prestigious cup final of all.

Harry will be left to ponder those strange transfers which saw Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Younes Kaboul and Niko Kranjcar bounce backwards and forwards from White Hart Lane to Fratton Park and back again. And those other deals: Robbie Keane’s in-and-out involving Liverpool, Spurs and Celtic, Roman Pavlyuchenko’s disappearance and revival, Jamie O’Hara’s loan deal at Pompey.

I’m not saying there’s anything crooked going on, despite Harry’s splendid pad in Sandbanks, England’s Riviera, I’m just saying he spends money freely. I guess it has to be sanctioned, so he can escape the direct blame. How Spurs cope with it, I’m not sure. Their ground needs rebuilding, they don’t pull anything like the crowds needed to fund their current spending levels. Hopefully Spurs won’t fall into the debt trap soon.

But for now, let’s focus on Pompey as we prepare for the May 15 FA Cup final which will pit Israeli boss Grant against his old club Chelsea. Talk about Rich Man, Poor Man. What a contrast.

Frederic Piquionne, the Frenchman on loan from Lyon, got the first goal in extra-time yesterday after an absorbing but goalless 90 minutes. Spurs clearly deserved to win it. And when Peter Crouch finally got the ball past the pink-shirted David James just after the Piquionne’s close-range effort, it looked like they’d levelled. But no, the referee gave a mysterious foul on James, whose face showed evident relief.

And then, with five minutes of extra-time to play, Kevin-Prince Boateng, another former Spurs player, scored from the spot after Dindane was brought down on a breakaway. Suddenly it was over. The miracle complete. Tottenham in disbelief, Pompey in heaven.

James, 40 just after the World Cup, said: “We proved people wrong. That’s football, it’s wonderful. We’ve got a final at the end of it all. Today’s been superb.” In the commentary box, O'Hara - ruled out of this one because he's on-loan from Spurs - celebrated a probable FA Cup final appearance, out of the Blue, so to speak.

Leaving Harry contemplating Manchester City’s emphatic 5-1 win over Birmingham which makes them favourites for fourth place.

He must now prepare his spurned Spurs for Wednesday’s North London derby against an Arsenal side boosted by today’s 0-0 draw at Blackburn for title rivals Manchester United. That's some job.

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