If anyone can keep Liverpool out, Shaka can

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The Independent Football

Trepidation is a word that comes to mind in summing up the feelings of many footballers on important occasions at Anfield against Liverpool. There are others, such as awe or foreboding, but enjoyment is the one that Shaka Hislop plumps for, notwithstanding the fact that he once finished on the wrong end of a 4-3 score when he kept goal there for Newcastle.

Hislop will be back at Anfield this afternoon as Portsmouth bid to disrupt Liverpool's ambitions of a place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, and he relishes the prospect. "It is obviously a great place to play," he said in the wake of a stint at Pompey's Wellington training ground on Friday. "I don't think there are many fans more passionate or more knowledgeable than those of Liverpool. They generally give me a very good time and it is a ground steeped in tradition. It is a place I always enjoy going to for those reasons."

Hislop was in goal when Portsmouth edged Liverpool 1-0 at Fratton Park in a Premiership match earlier this season. Can that result be repeated? "I don't see why not," he insisted. "Though we are struggling a bit away from home, we are playing good football and are confident. We know that with a little bit of tweaking we will get things right, and if Lady Luck smiles on us it will be our day.

"We had a bit of luck with that 1-0 win over them when Emile Heskey hit the post early on. That's the type of good fortune that has been missing so often this season for us. One good win away from home will give everybody confidence that we can be resilient and show the grit we have shown at home."

Of course, nobody says it will be easy. As Hislop smilingly acknowledged: "Owen, Heskey, Gerrard, Kewell; you can go through the team, all are great threats. The thing is not to get sucked into worrying about one player and taking your eye off another. It makes no sense against teams like them, who can hit you from anywhere on the field."

Since that 1-0 win Hislop has spent six weeks recovering from a double groin operation and is a mite wary about his prospects. "Yeah, well, so far so good. That was the most serious of the injuries I have had in my career. It makes you take stock," said a player who will be 35 in a week's time. "But I have come through the operation and am not suffering too much of a reaction to it."

Portsmouth's manager, Harry Redknapp, is in no hurry whatsoever to move Shaka on. "He has as long as he wants. He is important to us, a good man. He was a great signing for me at West Ham when I took him on a free transfer from Newcastle. Then I brought him here on a free, so I haven't spent a lot of money on him. But I have had great service from him. He is a terrific shot-stopper, big and imposing, and a terrific guy."

He was born in Hackney as Neil Hislop, but his Trinidadian father quickly dubbed his son Shaka, in honour of the Zulu warrior. The boy Shaka grew to 6ft 4in when the family moved back to Trinidad, where he was a schoolfriend of Dwight Yorke and Brian Lara. Though capped at Under-21 level for England, Hislop opted to play full internationals for Trinidad and Tobago.

He emerged after five years at Howard University in Washington DC with a degree in mechanical engineering (which, he now says, "gave me an academic discipline which has rubbed off in football") and was preparing for a career in that field when he was spotted keeping goal for an American club, Baltimore Blasts, and offered a trial with Reading. "It was a one-shot deal," he explained. "If Reading hadn't taken me on I wouldn't have gone looking for more trials, I would have gone for a job as an engineer. So it was Reading or nothing."

There were 104 appearances in three seasons at Reading before Newcastle came calling with a cheque for £1.5m, and he played 53 times for them before losing his place to Shay Given. Snapped up by the canny Redknapp, Shaka had 105 games for West Ham until giving way to David James and following Redknapp to Portsmouth, where he kept 17 clean sheets in last season's surge into the Premiership.

That the going has become harder at the top level is not a surprise. "We knew that would happen," Hislop said. "But we are confident, despite so many injuries, and believe we are playing the type of football that will keep us up. We continue to be positive, the spirit is good.

"Newcastle was different. People there expected us to win the League. Now we are playing for a bunch of fans who just want us to stay up." And, just possibly, knock Liverpool out of the Cup at Anfield.

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