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THE Pompey chimes rang out at Old Trafford last night as Portsmouth, inspired by Paul Walsh's first goals in 14 games, turned back the clock to earn a Coca-Cola Cup quarter-final replay at Fratton Park on 26 January.
To hear the reaction of Portsmouth's 8,000-strong army of supporters after the final whistle, one could have been excused for believing that their team had reached Wembley itself for the first time in 55 years. They have certainly set up a night to remember on the south coast.
Forewarned is forearmed, it is said, but the pattern of the match was curiously reminiscent of Portsmouth's FA Cup tie at Blackburn last Saturday, when the First Division side had replied promptly to each of three goals by United's closest Premiership pursuers. Twice Alex Ferguson's treble contenders took the lead, through Ryan Giggs and Eric Cantona; twice the visitors retaliated within minutes.
Portsmouth might also have been awarded a penalty - Jim Smith, their manager, claimed it should have been three - during a second half in which they matched United blow for blow. However, with Brian McClair sending a diving header against the underside of Alan Knight's crossbar two minutes from time, they were more than content to have held out for home advantage.
No one deserved the acclaim of the travelling hordes more than Walsh, the former Tottenham and Liverpool striker whose elevation to the captaincy by Smith had raised many eyebrows. One of the smallest men on the pitch, Walsh not only scored twice with his head but also took the fight to United in the face of considerable adversity.
Pompey were greeted by a blizzard of newsprint, and during the opening 12 minutes their defence was as untidy as the turf. United, who had dropped Roy Keane and lost Paul Ince to illness, opened them up five times, Mark Hughes heading over from the easiest opportunity.
Portsmouth were still adjusting to the loss of the injured Kit Symons when United seized a 29th- minute lead. Giggs lost control of Gary Pallister's chipped pass but McClair won the tussle for the loose ball, which broke to give the Welsh prodigy a simple tap-in.
Summoning their Ewood spirit, Portsmouth drew level four minutes later when Walsh, mysteriously unmarked, twisted in the air to dispatch a free header past Peter Schmeichel's despairing dive from a corner by the former United reserve, Alan McLoughlin.
At the other end, Knight preserved parity with a gravity-defying catch from Cantona's header, which seemed to lift the underdogs still further. Early in the second half, the referee rejected a plausible penalty claim as McLoughlin tumbled under a sliding challenge from Paul Parker, while McClair sliced a corner on to the outside of United's woodwork.
Cometh the hour, cometh l'homme. Parker's cross from the right gave Cantona a chance to head his 15th goal of the season from close range, sheer power defeating Knight's attempt to keep it out.
Once more, Portsmouth responded in kind. In the 71st minute, Darryl Powell advanced to the byline before cutting the ball back. Schmeichel parried straight into the path of Walsh, who nodded his 11th goal this season from a matter of feet.
United made several chances which should have restored their advantage, but Portsmouth's sense of adventure gained its reward. Ferguson, having seen his team held for the fifth time in the last seven home matches, was magnanimous enough to applaud his opponents.
'After the way teams like Blackburn and Ipswich played here, their attitude was a breath of fresh air,' the United manager said. He was also lavish in his praise of Walsh. 'He's a big fish in a little pond, but he's a star - and tonight he played like one.'
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, McClair (Dublin, 90), Robson, Giggs; Cantona, Hughes (Keane, 74). Substitutes not used: Sealey (gk).
Portsmouth (5-3-2): Knight; Kristensen, Symons (Chamberlain, 25), Dobson, Awford, Daniel; Durnin, McLoughlin, Stimson (Doling, 86); Walsh, Powell. Substitutes not used: Horne (gk).
Referee: K Barratt (Coventry).
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