Football: Grayson saves blushing Villa

Portsmouth 2 Foster 6, 40 Aston Villa 2 Staunton 41, Grayson 8 8 Attendance: 16,013
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The Independent Online
Terry Venables' influence at Portsmouth extends to a foam-clad mascot in his image, who paraded in front of a drenched and nonplussed bank of Villa fans before the match began.

Venables has made a more concrete impact in recommending a clutch of Australians to the Pompey manager Terry Fenwick. One of these, the pacy midfielder Craig Foster, put Portsmouth two up in the first half - a lead which an increasingly frantic Villa only managed to cancel out in the dying minutes of the game.

Foster, who played in both of Australia's World Cup qualifiers against Iran, scored his first within six minutes in a move which typified Portsmouth's direct approach. Fellow Australian John Aloisi played him free in the area and a shimmy and a turn gave Foster enough space to rifle a fierce, deflected shot past another Australian - Mark Bosnich in the Villa goal.

For the next half an hour Villa retained much of the possession but they were too short of ideas in front of goal. Stan Collymore, who had one of his infuriatingly lethargic days which ended in substitution, was the worst culprit, and when Foster scored his second it looked as if it might be Portsmouth's day. A Pompey victory would have virtually been assured if John Aloisi's second-half shot had not deflected back from the underside of the bar.

Villa clawed back one goal just before half-time but Fenwick was aggrieved that both this and the late equaliser had an element of offside to them. The entire Portsmouth defence was standing with arms raised when a ricochet allowed Steve Staunton to volley the first under Alan Knight. The second saw Mark Draper retreating from an offside position but Portsmouth's Andy Thomson dallied on the ball long enough for Simon Grayson to dispossess him and chip the ball in.

"I've never seen a clearer need for a fourth official or a TV link-up," complained Fenwick. "The officials need help, particularly as there is so much money at stake now."

But Fenwick is still hopeful of a result in the replay: "Terry [Venables] and myself worked hard this week on tactics and we are well capable of turning them over at Villa Park."

By contrast, the Villa manager Brian Little acknowledged that he had had a lucky escape: "We're grateful to still be in there," he admitted.