Yakubu picks his moment as Saints are made to pay

Portsmouth 1 Southampton 0
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The Independent Online

This was Ayegbini Yakubu's day. But it so nearly wasn't. Football is all about seizing the moment, all the more so in hectic derby matches, when chances are so often few and far between. When Yakubu missed a golden opportunity, shooting wide with the goal at his mercy, in the first half, it looked like robbing Portsmouth of revenge for two defeats this season to their bitterest rivals.

This was Ayegbini Yakubu's day. But it so nearly wasn't. Football is all about seizing the moment, all the more so in hectic derby matches, when chances are so often few and far between. When Yakubu missed a golden opportunity, shooting wide with the goal at his mercy, in the first half, it looked like robbing Portsmouth of revenge for two defeats this season to their bitterest rivals.

Add to this another Yakubu miss, when he scuffed a shot on the turn, and a Teddy Sheringham shot which flew straight at the keeper when the striker stumbled when clean through, and it certainly did not look like being Portsmouth's day.

Indeed, as the teams cancelled each other out in a furious and often scrappy end-to-end encounter, a goal-less deadlock looked on the cards, with Yakubu's reputation as a profligate striker with a penchant for running into offside positions cemented more solidly into the Portsmouth consciousness.

But then, amid the boisterous chaos of the game, came a perfect moment of construction and clarity from the home side, and with it another opportunity for Yakubu to become a hero.

The clock said 68 minutes when Alexei Smertin penetrated the visitors' midfield and found Steve Stone on the right wing. Stone's cross picked out the Nigerian racing into the box, and with a little jump that was half a dance of delight, he tickled the ball into the corner of the net from barely three yards. The ground erupted, and a number of Portsmouth fans, who just a few minutes earlier had been taunted with "Going down'' chants from their rivals, spilled on to the pitch in celebration.

This woke Southampton from their slumber. They began to show more urgency than they had in the first half, and were it not for some superb late goalkeeping from Shaka Hislop they would have snatched a point. The goalkeeper raced from goal to smother bravely as Kevin Phillips burst through, and later dived to save a shot from the same player at the near post as the pressure built.

Right at the death Phillips had a Yakubu moment. Southampton's pressure was reaching a crescendo, as he struck a stupendous shot out of nothing from 10 yards, but with Hislop this time beaten it bulleted off the far post and flew to safety. Bad luck. Yet still the visitors might have saved themselves. When Claus Lundekvam, who has never scored for Southampton, thundered in a header from a corner, Hislop plunged to make another fine save on the line.

Harry Redknapp, the Portsmouth manager, was delighted and relieved at the end. "It was a massive game," he said. "We couldn't afford to lose, it would have knocked us flat and left us in desperate trouble. It was very important for the fans.

"I was glad Yakubu scored today," Redknapp continued. "His pace and strength gets him there. He just needs more coolness in his finishing."

Paul Sturrock, Southampton's new manager, experienced defeat for the first time after victory over Liverpool last week. He was not impressed with what he saw. "I'm very disappointed," he said. "I'm gutted for the fans. It gave me a lot of food for thought. One team desperately wanted to win and one team didn't want to lose, that was the difference.

"Too many of my players have got the wrong mental attitude, and I will be making changes. I've been emphasising the importance of the game all week, but we were flat, we just didn't seem there. We had a good 12-minute spell, but there was no shape or rhythm to our passing. The conditions were difficult, yes, but I was more worried about the mental approach of the players."

The match was played out in a great atmosphere, and Redknapp was quick to pay credit to the fans. "When the atmosphere is like that it makes us all feel extremely privileged to be part of Portsmouth football club," he said. "We will keep fighting; no one knows how many wins we will need to stay up, but we won't be giving in."

Goal: Yakubu (68) 1-0.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Hislop 8; Pasanen 5, De Zeeuw 6, Primus 7, Stefanovic 6; Stone 7, Smertin 6, Faye 7, Taylor 6; Sheringham 7, Yakubu 8 (LuaLua, 82). Substitutes not used: Wapenaar (gk), Hughes, Mornar.

Southampton (4-4-2): Niemi 8; Dodd 7, Lundekvam 7, Higginbotham 5, Crainey 5 (Fernandes, 80); Delap 4, Telfer 5, A Svensson 6, McCann 6 (Pahars 6, 73); Phillips 5, Beattie 5. Substitutes not used: Smith (gk), Hall.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire) 7.

Man of the match: Yakubu.

Attendance: 20,140.

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