Albion see good signs in bad luck

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The Independent Online

So Portsmouth go back to Wembley next month for the Cup final and West Bromwich Albion go to Blackpool on Tuesday in continued pursuit of promotion to the Premier League. On this performance, it is a division in which they would not, for a change, struggle.

Pompey were the strugglers in yesterday's FA Cup semi-final, especially in the first half, when Albion's domination verged on the embarrassing against a side chasing a place in Europe. With Kevin Phillips tormenting the central defensive pairing of Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin, Portsmouth's manager, Harry Redknapp, was patrolling his technical area with only a dozen minutes gone, issuing worried signals. Normally, Harry likes to mull over things from his seat in the first half, but so clearly were things going wrong that there was even a beseeching note to the supporters' famous "chimes" of Play Up, Pompey.

They never did play up to any sort of impressive level, not even after the winning goal, which was Nwankwo Kanu's lone, if crucial, contribution against the club where he spent two years before moving to Portsmouth in 2006. Phillips won the battle of the oldies (34 against Kanu's 31) but not the war. Booed from the start by Pompey's supporters because of having once played for Southampton, this scorer of 200 League goals in a five-club career could not find one in his favourite position, playing just off Albion's target man, Roman Bednar.

In fact, David James was only marginally busier than his opposite number, Dean Kiely. Even so, James's end-of-match assertion that "we dominated today" was a long way wide of the mark. Perhaps he had forgotten his 36th-minute blooper, when he moved to the edge of his box and lost the ball, regaining control just ahead of Phillips' arrival. Had that brought a goal, Albion would surely have seen off the last of the Premier League clubs in a season full of woeful Cup performances by teams from the top division.

Having eliminated Manchester United in the quarter-finals, Portsmouth were unable to reproduce anything near that display. "We didn't pass the ball," Redknapp lamented. They didn'trun much, either, being beaten to the ball all over the pitch until they scored.

Albion revelled in the space and you could almost see the thought bubble, "If this is what happens in the Premier League, bring it on". They were undone, in the end, by cruel luck just as Redknapp was preparing to make changes. Milan Baros clearly handled the ball in bringing Glen Johnson's free-kick under control before getting in a shot which Kiely shovelled aside. He would have reclaimed possession had not Zoltan Gera, with the best of intentions, cleared it off the line into the path of Kanu, whose simple sidefoot was the deciding factor.

Redknapp substituted him with 10 minutes left and sent on Sean Davis to reinforce the midfield on the basis of 'what we have, we hold'. And hold on they did, the closest to embarrassment being the Robert Koren crossbar clipper before the substitute Ishmael Miller turned his shot the wrong side of a post.

"All credit to West Brom," said Redknapp. "Tony Mowbray has got them playing the right way. They will go up this year." Mowbray was content to endorse that forecast. "It was important we came out of this game with a bit of confidence and belief," he said. "We are a decent enough team to get out of [the Championship]." It was impossible to argue with Phillips' contention that "we didn't deserve to lose". Or his follow-up: "We can hold our heads high. Portsmouth have been very lucky".

And Albion? Definitely unlucky, for the second time in less than a year at this location, having been beaten by the same score by Derby in the Championship play-off final at the end of last season. Next time, with a bit of luck.

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