Piquionne's pair sends 'lucky' Grant down Wembley way

Portsmouth 2 Birmingham City 0
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The Independent Football

They have a saying in Israeli football and media circles, "Avram's arse". It means to be lucky and is a reference to Avram Grant's apparently gilded career, notably his knack of getting plum jobs.

In recent months it had seemed that Grant's luck had run out. Portsmouth, his current employers, stumbled from owner to owner, then into administration, his team face having nine points docked, players were sold without his knowledge, a series of decent performances went unrewarded on the pitch, and his personal life came under unpleasant scrutiny.

Yesterday his good fortune returned. With six minutes remaining in this slow-burning FA Cup quarter-final Portsmouth were defending the two-goal lead given them by Frédéric Piquionne. Birmingham swung in a corner, David James parried Roger Johnson's header, and Liam Ridgewell headed it over the line.

James clawed the ball back into play, and everyone looked to linesman Adam Watts. The official indicated play-on, so referee Steve Bennett did. Within seconds television cameras proved Watts was wrong.

Would Birmingham have gone on to level the tie? We shall never know but Portsmouth have conceded several late goals this season and City had flung bodies forward. "I would back my team to score," said Alex McLeish, City's manager.

An emotional Grant felt his luck had finally turned. "With all the problems we have, all the decisions that have gone against us this season, one time luck is for us." The manager went over to fans at the end in what appeared a mutual love-in and he added: "When I see so many people are happy it makes me so proud. This is a moment I will remember all my life. It is more than big. Football is more than football. We don't know what will happen from hour to hour but we will fight to the end. You can break many things, but you cannot break our spirit."

Perhaps a rough justice was done because Portsmouth deserved victory, with Grant also lucky to come up against a Birmingham team which delivered one of their poorer performances of a fine season.

Until that late flurry James had been forced to make only one save. That was low to his left from Cameron Jerome following the game's best move, which involved Sebastian Larsson, James McFadden and Lee Bowyer, after 15 minutes. That aside, Pompey, with Hermann Hreidarsson setting a resolute example at the back, kept Birmingham at bay.

Not that Portsmouth offered much for an hour. John Utaka stretched Joe Hart after just nine seconds and shot powerfully over in first-half injury time but the intervening 45 minutes were barren. For all the endeavour of Jamie O'Hara, their play lacked shape and cohesion.

They upped the tempo in the second period with Piquionne troubling Scott Dann and Roger Johnson more than most this season.

There was, nevertheless, fortune about the opening goal after 66 minutes, Hart falling on the ball following a scramble. The goalkeeper then lost control of the ball which looped up and Piquionne stabbed it in. Three minutes later O'Hara released Piquionne who turned Johnson then beat Hart.

McLeish went for broke and, had Watts' eyesight been sharper, or goalline technology been available, could have been rewarded. Defeat was a real blow for Birmingham. They last reached a semi-final 35 years ago but must have felt they had a real chance of making the final this season.

Instead Portsmouth are back at Wembley banking £1m on the way. Doubtless the shy, retiring administrators, who were advertising themselves around the pitch, will be measuring up their suits and hoping they don't find a buyer until the semi- finals in five weeks' time.

Attendance: 20,456

Referee: Steve Bennett

Man of the match: O'Hara

Match rating: 5/10

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