Pompey's thoughts turn to Wembley after last-gasp loss
Everton 1 Portsmouth 0
Good things do truly come to those who wait. Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, the Everton midfielder, finally injected a moment of quality into this match in injury time as his 25-yard curling effort broke down a Portsmouth side that looked more resolute in this 90 minutes than they have done for the rest of the season combined.
"It was arguably the goal of the season," Everton manager David Moyes said. "It was a stunning, stunning goal. It came out of the blue and it was right in the top corner – it was a fantastic finish. It was a bit of relief for the supporters."
Everton versus Portsmouth was always going to struggle to grab attention due to far more compelling events elsewhere but, even still, it could have tried harder than this. With Everton's season dwindling out to nothing and with Portsmouth more interested in Wembley next weekend rather than Goodison Park yesterday, all the ingredients were in place to suggest that this game would not be a thriller.
That is exactly how it turned out and, although the victory extends the Toffee's unbeaten run to 11 matches – a Premier League record for them – this match will undoubtedly fail to be remembered for much at all, save for Bilyaletdinov's contribution.
Avram Grant, the Portsmouth manager, made five changes from the side that defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers at the start of the month, a sure sign that he is keeping his powder dry for the FA Cup final against his former club, Chelsea.
However, Everton did not capitalise on the wide-scale change of personnel even though they had the chances to do so. Early on, it was a case of "when" will Everton score rather "if" as David Moyes's men queued up to test Jamie Ashdown and, although chances were frequent, the touch of class needed to convert them was sorely absent.
Firstly, Louis Saha headed over the bar from just four yards out after a brilliant cross from Leighton Baines, before Mikel Arteta tamely shot at Ashdown from 10 yards out. Arteta had all the time in the world to pick his spot but his effort was simply not good enough.
After the interval, Portsmouth were unlucky to see an Anthony Vanden Borre goal disallowed for offside as replays confirmed that both Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka were playing him onside when he poked a close range effort home at the far post. At the other end, Louis Saha saw a header cleared off the line by Hayden Mullins.
Just as it appeared that Portsmouth would travel back to the South Coast with a point, Bilyaletdinov decided otherwise, calmly looking up before curling the ball past Ashdown to superbly win it. "It is goodbye to the Premier League – but only goodbye for the moment," summed up Grant optimistically.
Everton (4-5-1): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Anichebe (Bilyaletdinov 66), Rodwell (Yakubu 55), Arteta (Heitinga 85), Pienaar, Osman; Saha. Substitutes not used: Turner, Yobo, Senderos, Baxter.
Portsmouth (4-5-1): Ashdown; Finnan, Rocha, Mokoena (Ben-Haim 66), Mullins; Vanden Borre, Diop, Wilson (O'Hara 46), Boateng, Piquionne (Basinas 77); Utaka. Substitutes not used: O'Brien, Smith, Ritchie
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Man of the match: Bilyaletdinov.
Phil Jagielka looked comfortable all afternoon and although he may not be firmly in Fabio Capello's thoughts, he has done nothing wrong since returning from knee cruciate injury and could be considered. Leighton Baines worked hard as usual and tried to get forward when possible. In defence, he was relatively untroubled, but that could be down to Portsmouth's inadequacies rather than anything else.
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