Club Focus – Portsmouth – Oscar winning performance

It may have been Oscar night on Sunday, but the award-winning films such as Avatar and Hurt Locker could get nowhere near the dumbfounding spectacle that surrounds Fratton Park right now. Initially at home in the drama section, Pompey’s plight turned fairytale on Saturday as they sealed a return to Wembley, and the possibility of a semi-final tie against ex-boss Harry Redknapp.

It is a script that would have been chucked out of Hollywood barely after the pitch had even begun, but the prospect of a fairytale ending to this saga is still nigh. Indeed the gallant hero of Avram Grant, who rode in on his white horse just last year, may well come up against the former fans’ favourite Redknapp in a real hero vs. villain face-off. The more this drama unfolds, the more likely it becomes that the underdogs will have their day and triumph against the odds – Hollywood-style. The unity and fight in the face of adversity has been truly moving in recent weeks and Saturday’s win will be remembered for a long, long time in Pompey folklore.

It was a day for heroes, and Pompey had many. Frederic Piquionne is the obvious one with his match-winning brace, and he deserves all his plaudits. Not only did he net the decisive goals, but his all round play – especially in the second half – was truly outstanding. He was the valiant workhorse as he chased, harried and put himself about while winning everything in the air against the Birmingham centre-backs. Grant’s second half system change of pushing Jamie O’Hara further forward to play off the French striker worked wonders with the ball sticking to Piquionne every time it was pumped in his direction. He played like a true English-style centre-forward and was at the centre of everything Pompey did, lining up with O’Hara. The inspirational on-loan midfielder has been in superb form this season and he just seems to get better and better. It would be a tragedy if he were to miss out on the trip to Wembley, where he could face parent club Tottenham, ruling him out of the tie. Make no mistake about it – O’Hara is the heartbeat of this Pompey side. His creativity, passing range and stamina is unrivalled amongst the squad and fans will be praying Fulham do them a favour and knock out Spurs later this month, purely so O’Hara can walk out on to the hallowed Wembley turf.

Another of Pompey’s heroes on Saturday was that of Marc Wilson. Much-criticised at centre-back, the Irishman has been a revelation in the defensive midfield berth he has held for the last two games – both of which Pompey have won. Indeed while many will plaudit the aforementioned duo for turning the game in the second half, Wilson’s sudden dominance in the midfield area gave the hosts the foothold they so desperately needed. Wilson looked out-of-sorts and nervous in the first period but he was a mountain of strength and composure in the second as he controlled the game’s pace and tempo. It is clear his influence in this position is a great asset for the Blues, and his shortcomings in defence may mean his future lies in the anchor role. Ironically, his defensive stint has contributed to the role he seems to play so well, as an added toughness and tackling quality has come to the fore alongside his obvious ability on the ball. Taking Wilson’s place at the back was the man-mountain that is Hermann Hreidarsson whose status amongst the fans rose only higher on Saturday, as he put his body on the line to block anything and everything the visitors threw at Pompey’s goal. His commitment and endeavour encapsulated the Pompey spirit for the day as everyone involved fought for the cause.

After the ecstasy of Saturday, it is now time for the south coast side to plan for their fourth trip to Wembley in two years. A season full of such sorrow has a sliver lining and a day of real excitement on the horizon. Few could deny those ardent Fratton Park-goers their day in the sun after the lows of the last 18 months – and let’s face it, more lows are on their way. But for now, they can wallow in their joy for nearly a month until their date at Wembley. Whether it ends in delight or despair, only time will tell, but Saturday at least saw some pride returned to the Pompey ranks. And who knows, after their 2008 Wembley trips only signalled the dawn of a new, dark few years, perhaps a return will signal a turn-around for the better.

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