It has been seven years since Portsmouth contested an FA Cup quarter-final, when they were beaten at home by Chelsea. Those Londoners have been eliminated, but Pompey's reward - some may think it a dubious one at that - for victory here and reaching the last eight is to host another team from the capital, namely Arsenal.
That Harry Redknapp's men won through to face the Cup-holders and the current League leaders was down to a combination of good luck and one smartly taken goal by Richard Hughes. Actually it was a very good thing that the half-time substitute scored, because the way things had been going before his 72nd-minute strike, if this fifth-round replay had gone to penalties, they would still be taking them this morning.
Nevertheless, Arsenal should beware Portsmouth despite a performance from Redknapp's side yesterday which, by and large, was so negative that it looked like they were going for a penalty shoot-out from early on. After all, the Gunners were victims of one of the Cup's biggest smash-and-grab raids of recent years, when they lost to Liverpool in the 2001 final. Pompey pulled off almost as great an act of grand larceny here as they survived one missed penalty and persuaded the referee to rescind an earlier spot-kick decision.
Gérard Houllier's reaction to this defeat was littered with strong feeling but the Liverpool manager was standing firm. "I know I'm going to get slaughtered," he said, "but I don't feel under any more pressure than before. It was a funny game. I think it is unfair to slaughter us, as looking at the performance we had the chances. I can't blame my players."
While Liverpool were squandering chances and coming up against an inspired Shaka Hislop in the Portsmouth goal, Pompey's defensive approach was, in part, a tactic forced on Redknapp because of a long injury list. Yet for a home side they were still devoid of much forward intent until Alexei Smertin found Yakubu Aiyegbeni. The Nigerian looked up and saw Hughes on the overlap, and the unmarked midfielder duly scored his first goal for the club, arrowing his left-shot low inside Chris Kirkland's far post.
Hughes' goal simply capped 25 minutes of action that had appeared unlikely in the extreme on the basis of a curiously flat, uneventful first half, when Emile Heskey had the best chance before being thwarted by Hislop.
Having kept the Merseysiders at arm's length in the first half, Pompey were distraught when the referee gave a penalty after 48 minutes for a supposed handball. Only their protests persuaded the official to discuss it with his assistant, and with Michael Owen all set to take the penalty, Matt Messias realised the error of his ways and awarded Portsmouth a free-kick.
That was just the start of the drama as a second penalty was given after 62 minutes, despite an apparently textbook tackle by Matthew Taylor on Milan Baros. This time, however, the referee was not for turning, but Owen's attempt was weak and easily saved. Redknapp called both decisions "the most diabolical I've ever seen", but saved his wrath for the first. He said: "If you can't tell the difference between Linvoy [Primus]'s hand and Baros's hand [one is black, the other is white] then we haven't got a hope."
No sooner had Hughes scored than Liverpool were straight back at Portsmouth, Steven Gerrard's header requiring a brilliant save by Hislop just under his crossbar. Owen's missed penalty was symptomatic of a lacklustre afternoon for the England striker, but as Houllier said: "We had ourselves to blame for wasted and missed chances. It was a difficult ground and difficult conditions but I can't fault my players except for their finishing.
"As for the penalty, Michael could have done better. We are disappointed but we have to be strong enough and put things right in three days' time in the Uefa Cup against Levski Sofia. I'm sure the boys will prove their worth."
Redknapp's reaction was predictably effusive: "The players were magnificent," he gushed. "It was a great day for us because we showed so much character and it was always going to be a counter-attacking team. We thoroughly deserved the win and it was a great all-round performance. As for Arsenal, they are the best side in the country."
Goal: Hughes (72) 1-0.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Hislop; Pasanen, Primus, De Zeeuw, Stefanovic (Hughes, h-t); Harper, Smertin, Quashie, Taylor; Berkovic, Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Wapenaar (gk), O'Neil, Olszar, Cooper.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Kirkland; Carrager, Hyypia, Henchoz, Finnan; Hamann, Gerrard, Le Tallec (Murphy, 60), Cheyrou (Sinama-Pongolle, 84); Owen, Heskey (Baros, h-t). Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Biscan.
Referee: M Messias (S Yorks).
Bookings: Portsmouth: Quashie, Smertin, Hughes, Yakubu.
Man of the Match: Gerrard.
REVISED SIXTH ROUND DRAW
SATURDAY 6 MARCH
Manchester United v West Ham or Fulham (12.30)
Portsmouth v Arsenal (6.0)
SUNDAY 7 MARCH
Millwall v Tranmere Rovers (1.0)
Sunderland or Birmingham City v Sheffield United (4.05)
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