Greek duo face fiery baptism in battle by the sea

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The Independent Football

It took Robert Pires and Thierry Henry, seasoned internationals of high class, a season to adjust to the pace and intensity of the English game. Konstantinos Chalkias and Giannis Skopelitis will get a few minutes.

It took Robert Pires and Thierry Henry, seasoned internationals of high class, a season to adjust to the pace and intensity of the English game. Konstantinos Chalkias and Giannis Skopelitis will get a few minutes.

The two Greeks, who signed for Portsmouth late this week, are expected to be thrust straight into one of the bitterest matches of the season, this lunchtime's FA Cup fourth-round tie at Southampton.

The derby would stretch the resources of Hampshire police in normal circumstances. This season, with the Southampton manager Harry Redknapp having left Fratton Park for St Mary's only a few weeks ago, it promises to be such a high octane occasion most local publicans have agreed to a police request not to open before or after the match.

Into this maelstrom will step Chalkias, a 6ft 5in goalkeeper signed for £100,000 from Panathinaikos, and Skopelitis, reputedly a tough midfielder, who was bought for £1m from Egaleo.

Chalkias may have some forewarning of the atmosphere, having played in the ferocious Athenian derbies against Olympiakos and AEK, but for Skopelitis the experience could be a shock. A Uefa Cup tie against Middlesbrough at the Riverside earlier this season may not be sufficient.

Further inflaming the mood is that Portsmouth need to play Skopelitis because Redknapp returned to Fratton this month to sign Nigel Quashie. With Amdy Faye moving to Newcastle Pompey are now short in midfield especially with Steve Stone and Gary O'Neil doubtful.

Southampton have players out themselves notably Quashie, who is Cup-tied, and Kevin Phillips, who is injured, but the problems are relative. They expect to field the XI which beat Liverpool last week.

Portsmouth are still above Southampton in the Premiership but Joe Jordan, their coach, insists they are underdogs. He said: "It is on their ground and they had a smashing win last week, but people have written us off in the past.

"These players have shown their character and spirit before and that could decide it.

"A lot of people thought we might disintegrate without Harry but we had a great win straight away at Bolton, then beat West Brom and drew at Newcastle and Liverpool. That was outstanding."

Redknapp was also trying to play down expectations, stressing his priority was escaping relegation.

"I hold no vendettas and if I'm honest the Premiership games are much more important to us than Cup ties," he said. "I signed all the Portsmouth players and probably know more than anybody about them.

"They are a great bunch of lads with a terrific team-spirit and if they keep that they will stay in the Premiership, no danger."

Such praise is unlikely to cut any ice with a travelling support which will be vociferous whatever the licensing restrictions. Jordan, a veteran of many derbies, said: "A player must be tuned in and able to handle occasions like this. He has got to be controlled.

"It will be physical and emotional and a good temperament can make all the difference."

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