Pompey can crack top five, insists Kranjcar

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The Independent Online

Niko Kranjcar is adamant Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth can earn a "double" qualification for next season's Uefa Cup by winning the FA Cup and finishing fifth in the Premier League.

Kranjcar's superbly struck second-half goal earned Pompey a 1-0 win, their ninth in the last 11 fixtures, at West Ham on Tuesday night and cut the gap to fifth-placed Everton to just four points.

The Merseysiders also face a tough run-in without the injured Tim Cahill against the likes of Chelsea (home) and Arsenal (away) while Portsmouth have already played the top four teams twice each.

And the way Pompey ground down Alan Curbishley's Hammers at Upton Park, earning their 13th away win of the season and a 21st clean sheet, showed they are in no mood to merely play out the campaign until the FA Cup final with Cardiff.

Kranjcar, 23, who topped an impressive individual performance with a sweeping right-foot strike in the 61st minute, said: "We played great.

"The manager had to make changes from last Saturday's team but the three players who came in were tremendous. Some people may have thought our Premier League season was over but I think reaching the FA Cup final has taken all the pressure off us in the league.

"We feel we can go out there and express ourselves and, with our midfield and back four so strong, I thought we dominated West Ham eventually.

"I really believe our squad is good enough to overcome Everton and we will certainly give it our best shot to finish fifth. We just aim to keep winning all our games."

Redknapp, after a third successive win over his old club since he became Pompey boss in 2001, insisted: "I've found I don't have to do too much to keep these players going now. You hope that on the back of reaching an FA Cup final you still produce the right performance in the next game and I was delighted with them.

"Niko is a tremendous footballer. You saw his goals against England and Scotland and he's real class. Yet he's only a kid at 23, just like Sulley Muntari beside him in midfield."

Pompey's latest win ensured they surpassed their Premier League points record of 54, achieved last season. Redknapp said: "I'm also told it is our 21st clean sheet, but no wonder with Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin as centre-backs. What a pair of free transfers they are."

Distin, still uncapped by his country, said: "We've got enough games to go to get the points we need for fifth place and we are certainly not entirely focused on the FA Cup, even though it is fantastic to be there.

"Let's go for the double as far as the Uefa Cup is concerned. As long as it is possible I'll keep believing we can finish fifth which, to me, would be almost as good as winning a title because the top four are always the same every year."

Portsmouth were without Lassana Diarra and Jermain Defoe at Upton Park.

Diarra was still nursing a thigh injury which kept him out for two games before the FA Cup semi-final while Defoe attended his grandmother's funeral in St Lucia on Tuesday.

Both should be back for Saturday's home clash with Newcastle, the club Redknapp could have joined for a king's ransom in January.

He said: "It's a great season no matter what happens but we'd love to win the FA Cup and finish fifth. Fantastic. West Ham? They will be alright. Obviously, the big problem is all the injuries Alan's got but it's a massive improvement on last season when they were fighting the drop."

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