Crouch cracks the ice on Harry's curious day

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The Independent Football

It wasn't the goals, it wasn't the sporadic abuse, the calls of "Judas" or the banner proclaiming "Redknapp: Forgotten never forgiven". It wasn't the occasion, it wasn't the FA Cup and it wasn't even the victory. It was only when Harry Redknapp was asked about Peter Crouch, the man who took the match-winning penalty, that the ice cracked.

It wasn't the goals, it wasn't the sporadic abuse, the calls of "Judas" or the banner proclaiming "Redknapp: Forgotten never forgiven". It wasn't the occasion, it wasn't the FA Cup and it wasn't even the victory. It was only when Harry Redknapp was asked about Peter Crouch, the man who took the match-winning penalty, that the ice cracked.

"I'll be honest with you," Redknapp said, his head bowed as he sat, slightly slumped, slightly hunched, in the press-room. "When he picked the ball up I'd be a liar if I say I was sat there with a load of confidence." The audience, the assembled journalists, laughed.

Encouraged, Redknapp looked up from the glass of water he was nursing. He continued. "I thought he was going to head it," Redknapp said. More laughter. He was back tap-dancing now. His flow had returned. Before then he had been cagey, cautious and desperately uncomfortable. "I thought, what's he going to do with this." There was a pause. "I turned to someone and I said 'Look, I don't fancy Crouch. Someone said 'No, he'll be all right' and I said 'Oh, all right'. I was ready to slate him after he missed it but, luckily enough, he stuck it in."

The laughter continued. "Jim [Smith, the assistant manager] was worse than me," Redknapp said. "He was saying 'He can't score, Crouch' but, erm, we never thought about getting a penalty. So I just thought 'Who's going to take this' and Crouchy's grabbed the ball. But, no, he's done great for us. Terrific."

The last time Portsmouth played in this stadium, last autumn, the scoreline was the same. Then Redknapp had been prowling the away dug-out in the death throes of his reign at Portsmouth. All afternoon yesterday, in a black leather jacket with his arms thrust deep inside, he had the demeanour of a losing manager. He wanted to be somewhere else. Maybe that contract working for Sky TV held greater attractions after all.

Redknapp certainly didn't enjoy it. "Strange, strange old day, really," he said when asked about his feelings. "I've been more excited at football matches, really." It showed. Redknapp, really, did not know what to do. How could he?

His defence of his departure is staunch and continued yesterday. "We had two and a half fantastic years together," Redknapp said of his time at Fratton Park. He brought success not witnessed since the 1940s and the days of Jimmy Dickinson, he said. "There's no bad feelings between me and them [the fans] whatsoever."

In truth the reaction was not full of the expected venom. Yes, there were chants, there were catcalls and booing but it was more pantomime than poison. A bodyguard was employed but not needed.

In fact the visiting fans didn't even notice his first foray to the touchline, after just six minutes, although after that he left most of the gesticulating to coach Dennis Rofe - the only member of his staff who didn't previously work at Portsmouth.

The build-up had been more inflammatory than the proceedings what with both chairmen guilty of stoking tensions. The Southampton match programme even played its part - transposing a photograph of Redknapp on to the FA Cup, flanked by the club crests of both teams. Inside there were features on Redknapp, Smith, coach Kevin Bond and Crouch. In fact there was something on everyone who had crossed the divide. Not that any reminders were needed.

At the end Redknapp turned and clapped the fans - the Pompey ones first. He then looked to the skies and headed towards the tunnel before stopping and walking back. There were handshakes and embraces. "Them players," he said later of the Portsmouth squad, "they all walked in, everyone of them, before the game they came into my office. They are all mates of mine. I signed every one of them."

Did he understand the hostility? "Not really," Redknapp said. "Football's my game. Maybe they can understand how hurt I was when I left. Now everyone - hopefully - can move on."

But the result, and the manner of it, will have done little to help that - even if Redknapp's behaviour was beyond reproach.

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