West Bromwich 0 Portsmouth 1: Trickster works his magic for Pompey

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The Independent Football

Harry Redknapp was in his element: holding court in the bowels of Wembley, talking football, cracking gags, and reminding everyone what a basket case Portsmouth were before he rescued them six years ago.

He should not have to keep repeating this but, perhaps due to his cheeky-chappie, wheeler-dealer image, Redknapp has never been granted the respect he feels his achievements warrant. He may never have won a title or a cup, but since Brian Little and Roy Hodgson are the only English managers currently in work who have, he is far from alone there. Turning Portsmouth from perennial Championship stragglers to Premier League respectability, and steering them to a first trip to the FA Cup final in 69 years, is no mean feat.

Portsmouth's performance on Saturday underlined that, behind the laughter a smart football brain is whirring. They did not play well. Indeed, Redknapp admitted, they have not played well at any stage in their Cup run. But Portsmouth never looked like being beaten. Redknapp spoke afterwards of playing 4-4-2 instead of his preferred 4-5-1 so as not to appear negative, but it did look as if Portsmouth's game-plan revolved around defending deep to suffocate West Bromwich Albion's free-scoring attack in the safe knowledge that the Championship club's notoriously porous defence would eventually leave a hole. Redknapp's reputation may be built on attractive football, on indulging flair players like Eyal Berkovic, Lomana Lua Lua and Kanu, but the reality is he builds the tricksters' platform first.

Look at Saturday's defence. In goal was the England No 1 making his 778th senior appearance. The back four have played more than 1,700 matches between them, including 131 internationals. They have pace in Glenn Johnson and Sylvain Distin and are physically imposing with an average height of 6ft 2in. Not many teams are going to beat this quartet in the air. Nor are they easy to get behind. So you have to play through them.

Albion tried. They dominated first-half possession with Jonathan Greening pulling the strings but Lassana Diarra is hard to evade and only once, when a flowing move ended with Zoltan Gera worrying James from the edge of the box, did they threaten.

From less possession Portsmouth had looked more dangerous and early in the second half Milan Baros turned Martin Albrechtsen and, though Dean Kiely saved his shot, Kanu tapped in. The Czech probably handled in the process, but it was not a Maradona-type offence. Tony Mowbray, Albion's impressive manager, did not make a fuss.

Though Robert Koren hit the bar, and Ishmael Miller missed from close-in, Albion may not have got that near had Carl Hoefkens not been able to take advantage of an injury-hampered Hermann Hreidarsson.

While Albion turned their thoughts to Blackpool away tomorrow, and the resumption of their promotion campaign, Redknapp's wandered down Memory Lane. He recalled, "When Milan [Mandaric] asked me to take over [in May 2002] I refused. I really didn't want to be the manager. They'd finished 20th, 19th, 18th, 20th, 17th.

"I thought well, you ain't going to turn this round. But we did, we got a new team and we won the Championship. We've never really looked back." He then remembered the infamous walkout to join Southampton. "There was a blip. I left a really good team behind and came back and took over a terrible one. They bought a load of oddmarks. Dejan Stefanovic, who was the captain, said to me, 'Gaffer, you've got no chance here. This is the worst team I have ever seen. You must be mad'. I thought, 'Well, let's see'. After a morning's training I realised he was right."

Redknapp wheeled and dealed and Pompey stayed up – to his considerable relief. "It would have been hard for me if we'd got relegated. I did not walk back in here with everyone welcoming me back. It's no good them all saying, 'Oh yeah, we did'. There was banners up, 'Judas' and all that, from our supporters. It was, 'I've got to do it here, or they'll slaughter me.'" Then Mandaric sold to Alexandre Gaydamak. This year the Russian went to the Carling Cup final with Roman Abramovich. "He sent me a text," said Redknapp. "It said, 'My dream is to go to Wembley for a cup final,' and I thought, 'Someone else wants a ticket'. Then I realised it was Sacha. I thought, 'Hold on, we've got Manchester United away in the next round'.

"When that draw came out I was playing golf with Jamie [Redknapp], some old Etonian and Alastair Campbell. Peter Storrie [Portsmouth's chief executive] was describing the draw on the phone. When he went 'Man United... Portsmouth', I threw my eight-iron further than the ball. They all looked at me thinking, 'What is he doing?'

"We got through, then I get a letter from a fella who says he had been to every round but he couldn't get a ticket. He'd moved to Wales and wasn't sure how to work the internet. So I phoned him and left a message, 'Hello Geoff, it's Harry Redknapp. Ring you later'.

"Of course, it's April 1, but I'd forgotten that. I get him the next day and he says, 'I've had a row with all my mates thinking they was on the wind up'."

Geoff will be on the phone again now. "Two together please Harry, 17 May, Wembley."

Goal: Kanu (54) 0-1

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Kiely; Hoefkens, Albrechtsen, Clement, Robinson; Gera (Kim, 73), Koren, Greening, Morrison (Brunt, 60); Bednar (Miller, 60), Phillips. Substitutes not used: Danek (gk), Pele.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Diop, Muntari, Diarra, Kranjcar; Kanu (Davis, 80), Baros (Nugent, 71). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Lauren, Pedro Mendes.

Referee: H Webb (Yorkshire).

Booked: Portsmouth Baros.

Man of the match: Johnson.

Attendance: 83,584.