Crouch gives decisive twist to 'crazy' Saints soap opera

Southampton 2 - Portsmouth 1
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The Independent Football

Nine yellow cards, two allegedly "dodgy" penalties, one sent off. The match officials did everything they could to deflect attention away from Harry Redknapp. The Southampton manager could not have attempted to keep a lower profile if he had grabbed a baseball cap, jumped into the opposition dug-out and called himself Velimir Zajec.

Nine yellow cards, two allegedly "dodgy" penalties, one sent off. The match officials did everything they could to deflect attention away from Harry Redknapp. The Southampton manager could not have attempted to keep a lower profile if he had grabbed a baseball cap, jumped into the opposition dug-out and called himself Velimir Zajec.

Redknapp's successor at Portsmouth did make a rare appearance on the touchline but all eyes were elsewhere. However, for 45 minutes they were certainly not on the pitch. In the tie that neither side wanted, neither side performed during that time. But, like all good soap operas, the drama was saved to the end.

The Southampton midfielder Matt Oakley called the second half "the craziest" he has been involved in. But these are crazy times on the South Coast and there was even the twist in the tale as the former Portsmouth striker Peter Crouch, sold by Redknapp in his first act at Fratton Park, scored the winning penalty. It was his fourth goal in four games and came in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

The goal meant there was no replay and the collective cheer from the Hampshire Constabulary probably drowned out the home fans. Only four arrests were made, but Portsmouth will wonder why one of them was not the assistant referee Mike Tingey. It was he who persuaded the unsighted referee Steve Bennett to award the decisive spot-kick.

The claim was that Matthew Taylor had handled David Prutton's cross. The defender certainly leant into the ball. Although, at first, it appeared harsh the decision was correct. Indeed, to his credit, Mr Bennett got the major decisions right. Portsmouth's penalty, when Claus Lundekvam barged into Diomansy Kamara, was marginal but accurate. Ayegbeni Yakubu converted. Then Kamara, who was booked in the mêlée before the kick, was given a second caution for handball and dismissed. However, the 10 men pushed on and did not deserve to lose. Patrik Berger had looked the classiest act all afternoon but made a hash of a chance before the substitute Ricardo Fuller panicked and blazed over.

Southampton remained fortunate. They played worse than of late, Portsmouth better, although goodness knows why Zajec threw in his new goalkeeper Konsta Chalkias, who flapped more than the seagulls at the nearby docks. The Greek international could do little about Southampton's first goal, a thunderous 25-yard drive from Oakley. But the home side never controlled proceedings and were as uncomfortable as their manager, who looked careworn and confessed his relief that the fixture was over.

The Portsmouth captain Arjan De Zeeuw questioned the refereeing decisions calling them "dodgy", but the description could be be applied only to the result.

Goals: Oakley (54) 1-0; Yakubu pen (57) 1-1; Crouch pen (90) 2-1.

Southampton (4-5-1): Niemi; Telfer, Lundekvam, Davenport, Higginbotham; Nilsson (Jones, 64), Prutton, Oakley (Jakobsson, 73), Delap, A Svensson; Crouch. Substitutes not used: Smith (gk), Cranie, Ormerod.

Portsmouth (4-3-2-1): Chalkias; Primus, De Zeeuw, Stefanovic, Taylor; Hughes, Cissé, O'Neil; Kamara, Berger; Yakubu (Fuller, 83). Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Skopelitis, Mezague, Curtis.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Southampton Prutton, Telfer, Jones; Portsmouth Kamara, Hughes, De Zeeuw, Stefanovic, Cisse.

Sent off: Kamara (72).

Man of the match: Berger.

Attendance: 29,453.

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