On a day when football's rule-makers decided there would be no goalline technology, Alex McLeish was left bewildered as Birmingham's dream of a first FA Cup final died. Desperately trying to claw back two goals from Frederic Piquionne for Portsmouth, Birmingham thought they had a lifeline through Liam Ridgewell in the 80th minute. David James, the Portsmouth keeper, had parried Roger Johnson's thumping header, but only into the path of Ridgewell whose header bounced over the line. Adam Watts, the referee assistant, did not confirm it and Portsmouth went into the semi-finals.
McLeish said: "The ball was clearly over the line. You would expect an official at this level to see that. They do the fitness tests and part of that is the vision side of things. It's a shame the guy missed it. Although that is not the reason we went out of the FA Cup what it would have done is made the score 2-1, instead of 2-0, with 10 minutes to go and given us a lifeline." It was ironic that it happened just after the International Football Association Board (IFAB) announced that their members had voted against the idea of using video replays to avoid such controversial moments.
McLeish added: "I've always been a big advocate of goalline technology in incidents such as this. Of course it needs to be only for appropriate incidents and not slow the game down for the crowd, but they have it at the top level in other sports so I can't see why it can't be introduced in football. That is a frustrating decision by Fifa [whose votes were decisive in the IFAB's decision] because I think they are doing their officials a disservice."
A video referral would have taken just as long as it did for the referee to calm the frustrated Birmingham players. At 2-1, there was hope for Birmingham to salvage something at Fratton Park. McLeish added: "That would have got the home crowd twitchy and given us a great chance to go on and score another goal - and the way this group of players have shown the fighting qualities to bounce back on more than one occasion this season - I would have backed them to have maybe gone on and done exactly that. There are a lot of disappointed players in that changing room because they are winners and they wanted to progress, but they can be very proud of what they have done so far."
So too should Portsmouth after another gallant effort that should not be overshadowed by the Ridgewell incident. James said: "Maybe we can debate that on the way home, but we won 2-0 as far as the score goes and I think we deserved it." It was James who made the best, and most important, save of a tense and tetchy first half. He stretched out his right hand to deny a bullet shot from Cameron Jerome. As one of just four survivors from the side who won the cup two years ago, the veteran knew how much it would mean for the club to repeat that feat.
And a return to Wembley was sealed in three dramatic minutes. Hart and Scott Dann got in each other's way when John Utaka poked the ball goalwards and the Birmingham keeper saw his attempted clearance bounce up invitingly for Piquionne to bundle into the empty net. The Frenchman's fourth goal in three games followed in the 70th minute. Jamie O'Hara threaded a pass to Piquionne who turned Johnson inside out and then coolly stroked the ball past Hart. firstname.lastname@example.org