Football / First Division play-offs: Joachim fashions a fabulous finish

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Leicester City. . .1

Portsmouth. . . . .0

A GOAL of Premier League class by Julian Joachim redeemed a First Division play-off semi-final of patchy quality at the City Ground, Nottingham yesterday, and gave Leicester a fighting chance of thwarting Portsmouth's ambitions in Wednesday's second leg at Fratton Park.

Only four minutes remained when the 18-year-old substitute, who already has an entry in the BBC's 'Goal of the Season' competition, conjured a potentially priceless winner out of nothing. Receiving a pass with his back to goal just inside the Portsmouth half, Joachim turned Kit Symons and pushed the ball ahead of him as Bjorn Kristensen and Andy Awford converged.

Joachim seemed to have overrun it, and for a moment Kristensen appeared likely to get there first. But an awesome burst of speed carried the diminutive striker clear, and from 12 yards he despatched a low, right-footed shot past Alan Knight in the Pompey goal for his 13th goal in 27 appearances since emerging from youth-team obscurity in October.

The Trent End, a mass of blue as Leicester dropped in on the neighbours for the day because of building work at Filbert Street, erupted in relief. Portsmouth left the pitch looking as crestfallen as Forest so often have in recent months, clearly wondering whether they may lose out altogether after missing automatic promotion by the narrowest of margins.

Yet for much of the first half, Jim Smith's team had mastered a swirling wind to demonstrate why they finished 12 points clear of Leicester. Passing the ball more accurately and imaginatively, they provided Guy Whittingham with opportunities to score the two goals he requires to reach 50 this season.

For once the former soldier, foraging alone because of the suspension of Paul Walsh, was not ruthless enough. His first effort, a second-minute header, forced an acrobatic catch from Kevin Poole. The second came seven minutes later, when Warren Neill sent him clear and the keeper chose not to come out, but Whittingham drove straight at Poole.

Leicester's preparation for the play-offs, in which they were beaten finalists last year, was hardly ideal. A week earlier they had lost 7-1 at Newcastle, making tentativeness understandable. Their attacks usually ended with high balls being pumped in optimistically for the other Walsh, Steve, and chances were at a premium.

Walsh headed wide in the 28th minute from a Lee Philpott cross, while David Oldfield met the same fate after diving to meet Philpott's deft chip shortly before half-time. Stalemate loomed, however, until Brian Little sensed the time was right to unleash Joachim.

The Leicester manager sent him on immediately after a searing shot by Mike Whitlow had passed too close to Knight's bar for comfort. Eight minutes from time, Joachim blazed over from four yards. Those who headed for the exits can have gone no further than Trent Bridge before the roar of 20,000 'home' fans informed them of the error of their ways.

Leicester City: Poole; Mills, Whitlow, Smith, Walsh, Hill, Oldfield, Thompson, Gee, Gibson (Grayson, 81), Philpott (Joachim, 60).

Portsmouth: Knight; Awford, Price, McLoughlin, Symons, Daniel, Neill, Chamberlain (Burns, 70), Powell (Lawrence, 59), Whittingham, Kristensen.

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield).