SOUTHAMPTON // Portsmouth finally gave their suffering fans something to shout about with an emphatic victory over their arch rivals, but it remains to be seen if they will still be in business to play their FA Cup quarter-final tie. In a week which almost saw the club go into liquidation, following their appearance at England's High Court last Wednesday, the Portsmouth players were somehow able to focus on matters on the pitch and came away with a 4-1 victory which helped them earn the bragging rights over their south coast neighbours.
Portsmouth still owe £11.5 million (Dh66m) in unpaid taxes and have been given until Wednesday to produce a statement of their financial affairs before their next High Court hearing on March 1. That is just five days before their potential quarter-final clash and supporters hope the club can find a new backer in the next few weeks to keep them afloat and ease the crippling financial problems. Avram Grant, the Portsmouth manager, admits he could write a book about the turmoil which has surrounded the club, but he has refused to walk away from Fratton Park and showed his emotion after the game when he walked over to the away fans and bowed down to them for their continued support. Grant has nothing but praise for the spirit which his players have shown through these dark days and was a relieved man after strikes from Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, Aruna Dindane, Nadir Belhadj and Jamie O'Hara earned them a place in the last eight of the cup.
Grant said: "Things have been very difficult off the pitch and we need to find a solution. I was pleased with the decision of the judge because it is not the fault of the staff or players. I could have given up, but I wanted to continue because we have an amazing spirit in the squad and in difficult times you need to show your character. This team is an example of that. "I am emotional because this result makes 250,000 people very happy. It is not just about individuals and affects so many people. I will fight until the last moment but the decision is not in my hands. I have a feeling they [the High Court] will think about the fans, players and staff. It is very easy for me - the club needs to continue."
It could have been a different story if Southampton had put away their chances in the first half. The League One side should have broken the deadlock on 10 minutes when Papa Waigo N'Diaye had a free header inside the box but David James made a superb save diving low to his left to stop the ball crossing the line. James almost gifted Southampton the lead on 34 minutes when he failed to hold on to a corner from Adam Lallana but with the goal at his mercy, Radhi Jaidi saw his header fly over the bar. The England keeper came to Portsmouth's rescue once again on the stroke of half-time when he made another fine save to deny a close-range header from Wayne Thomas.
Southampton were made to pay for all their missed opportunities when Portsmouth broke the deadlock on 66 minutes and it was all down to the efforts of Owusu-Abeyie who made a stunning impact as a substitute. John Utaka played the ball into the former Arsenal midfielder and he curled a low shot past Kelvin Davis into the corner of the net. Southampton drew level on 70 minutes. Dan Harding's free-kick picked out Lambert who beat Marc Wilson to the ball and directed a powerful header past James.
But Portsmouth quickly restored their lead on five minutes later. Owusu-Abeyie, who is on-loan from Spartak Moscow played a superb ball into the path of Dindane who saw his shot parried by Davis but the ball drifted slowly into the corner of the net. Portsmouth put the game beyond their local rivals when they scored two goals in the last eight minutes to clinch a vital victory. Belhadj broke free into the box on 82 minutes and struck the ball past Davis before O'Hara rounded off a great display on 85 minutes when he latched on to a pass from Owusu-Abeyie and fired home from close-range.
Alan Pardew, the Southampton manager, said: "Once we conceded the second goal we chased it naively and it left us with a nasty scoreline that we didn't deserve." email@example.com