Pompey's foreign legion lost in the drop zone

Cosmopolitan Blues sort out 'Arry's Allsorts. Ronald Atkin reports from Stamford Bridge
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The day was bright but the news continued bleak for Harry Redknapp and his Portsmouth team, strugglers sliding ever closer to the abyss of relegation. Not even an indulgent Norwegian referee could have saved Pompey from their 17th defeat in 27 Premiership matches, though Chelsea did their best to be of some assistance in a ragged opening half as they sought to shake off the Wednesday nightmare named Messi.

The statistics alone are almost enough to make Portsmouth put up the shutters. They have scored only twice in their last six League games, Redknapp has collected just two away wins in his two spells as manager, and just two of the 12 matches he has been in charge of since returning in December have brought victories. If that lot was not depressing enough, it is 56 years since they picked up as much as a single point at Stamford Bridge, and they have never managed a goal in their six Premiership games against Chelsea.

Redknapp bought faster in the January window than an oil potentate at the Harrods sale, adding nine to his squad and probably confusing even further an already polyglot squad. On the same principle that makes you wonder what makes Foreign Legionnaires want to fight for France, this bunch of loans and pick-up purchases appear strangers to their cause. This could not have been clearer than just before half-time when they won a free-kick on the edge of the home penalty zone. Ognjen Koroman, a Serbian international making his debut, strode forward to take the kick, as he probably does for his country, only to be shoved roughly aside by the captain, Gary O'Neil, to permit Matthew Taylor (their top scorer with four) to bend a left-footed effort into the arms of Petr Cech, Pompey's first shot on target.

Their resolve could not have been stiffened by the ridiculous away shirts they are obliged to wear, a sickening mix of salmon pink and beige. Nor by the fact that, in the long-term absence of their classy centre-back Dejan Stefanovic, their central defensive pair consisted of Azar Karadas, a Norwegian striker on loan from Benfica and pressed into action because of late withdrawals, and Andy O'Brien, who was not even wanted by a club with a rearguard like Newcastle United's. But 'Arry's Allsorts massed effectively enough to deny Chelsea on the rare occasions when it mattered.

Up front, Redknapp stationed just the Zimbabwean, Benjani Mwaruwari, who wears the name Benjani on his back, for which much thanks. He was lent the usual robust and enthusiastic support by Lomana LuaLua, pushing forward whenever he had a chance, but busiest by far among Redknapp's winter buys was goalkeeper Dean Kiely, who left Charlton because he wasn't seeing enough action. There could be no complaints on this count yesterday as Kiely blocked a John Terry header one-handed, saved Didier Drogba's free kick brilliantly and, as the pressure mounted in the second half, denied Shaun Wright-Phillips when a goal looked certain.

It couldn't last, of course, and the hammer blow was a sickener, delivered by Redknapp's nephew, Frank Lampard. "No surprise, was it?" said Uncle Harry. "He's always likely to score. He's a fantastic player, fantastic feller, a role model for any young person in the country. I said to my players beforehand 'Don't let him unload from anywhere'." When they failed to follow orders it all really was all over. Arjen Robben's late goal simply ensured that Portsmouth now trail Chelsea by 51 points.

Comments