Football: Portsmouth take heart from Villa's late escape

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The Independent Online
The easiest mistake a spectator could make at Fratton Park on Saturday was to assume that Aston Villa's manager, Brian Little, had run out of patience with Stan Collymore. Illness explained Collymore's substitution 10 minutes after half-time, but some football people present did not find this entirely convincing.

In sickness or in health Collymore remains an enigma; powerfully built, two-footed, quick and strong, but low on application. "Drive you mad," one famed visitor said.

Portsmouth's manager, Terry Fenwick, was probably disappointed by Collymore's departure. Better the lethargic big man than Julian Joachim, whose urgent pace proved more of a problem.

With further talks between Terry Venables and his predecessor as chairman, Martin Gregory, due to be held in London this week, Fenwick may soon have a clearer idea of how things are likely to shape up in Portsmouth's boardroom. Meanwhile, it pleases him and Venables that in matching Villa for quality Portsmouth made a nonsense of their position at the foot of the First Division.

Between them, Fenwick and Venables put a lot into Saturday's 2-2 draw, an effort that could have gained a place in the fourth round but for two dodgy offside decisions. "I want to have another look at the incidents on video," Fenwick said, "although I'm pretty clear in my mind that Villa players were offside for both goals. We should have cleared the second but we weren't done any favours."

However, nothing that occurred leaves Fenwick with anything to fear about a replay at Villa Park. World Cup calls on the Jamaican, Paul Hall, and the Australian pair, John Aloisi and Craig Foster have caused Portsmouth to be seriously under strength in League matches a fact underlined by their contribution to an impressive team performance.

Villa knew they were in a match after only six minutes when the alert Foster robbed Fernando Nelson to give Portsmouth the lead with a shot that Steve Staunton's outstretched boot deflected past Mark Bosnich.

Caused problems when Villa switched Staunton to the left side of their back three so that better use could be made of his passing, Portsmouth made the mistake of conceding too much space in midfield but still managed to go further ahead five minutes before half-time, when Ehiogu's deflection helped Foster to his second goal.

Whatever Villa's manager, Brian Little, had in mind at that stage, his problems were eased when Alan Knight failed to hold Staunton's close-range shot while Portsmouth were appealing for offside. "Gareth Southgate was injured, Stan Collymore wasn't well, so I didn't have any time to speak with the team," Little said. "I've never known so much confusion."

With Ricardo Scimeca starting the second half for Southgate and Joachim soon replacing Collymore, it was still a struggle for Villa who almost lost another goal from the move of the match.

Moving the ball sweetly through Villa's first line of defence Portsmouth were in on goal when Mathias Svensson found John Aloisi. Bosnich tried to persuade Venables that he had psyched out his compatriot but it was the crossbar that saved Villa. "If that had gone in it would have been all over," Venables said.

Instead, Villa drew level with only two minutes of normal time left. More controversy, Portsmouth claiming that two men were offside before Andy Thomson's mistake let in Simon Grayson.

The share of a big replay gate was seen immediately as a boost to Portsmouth's shaky finances but it was of no consolation to Fenwick. "In the end we achieved what we set out to do, and I think Villa can count themselves lucky," he said.

Goals: Foster (6) 1-0; Foster (41) 2-0; Staunton (41) 2-1; Grayson (88) 2-2.

Portsmouth (4-4-1-1): Knight; Pethick, Thomson, Awford, Waterman; Hall, McLoughlin, Foster, Turner (Igoe, 26); Aloisi (Durnin, 88); Svensson. Substitutes not used: Flahavan (gk), Whitbread, Hillier.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Staunton, Southgate (Scimeca, h- t); Nelson, Taylor (Hendrie, 90), Draper, Grayson, Wright; Milosevic, Collymore (Joachim, 52). Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Charles.

Booked: Portsmouth: Knight, Svensson. Aston Villa: Ehiogu, Taylor, Grayson.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Man of the match: Foster.

Attendance: 16,013.