If only Portsmouth could finish. Or, if only, they did not have to try to finish past a Finn. For so long in this contest it appeared the Fulham goalkeeper, Antti Niemi, just like Bolton Wanderers' Jussi Jaaskelainen back in September, was going to deny the home side any return on their endeavour, creativity and sheer desire to win.
Jaaskelainen ended unbeaten that night, as Bolton became the only visiting victors so far this season, but then he did not have to face the undimmed predatory senses of Andrew Cole. The 35-year-old striker was unfit then but yesterday he came off the bench to score the kind of untidy goal that many of his team-mates appear to scorn. Instead, they struck the post, the crossbar and every part of Niemi's body.
Cole's goal spoilt what would have been a delicious return to Fratton Park for Niemi who, on his last visit, in April 2005, had four goals put past him inside 26 minutes as Southampton fell out of the Premiership.
The home fans gave him every reminder of that result, and his previous allegiances, although Portsmouth's manager, Harry Redknapp, did not need one. He was in charge of Southampton then, and this would have been one of his most frustrating afternoons at Fratton Park since.
Not that Chris Coleman needed any reminders either. Cole is one of his former players, of course. "I thought here we go," Coleman admitted when he saw who was coming on. "He's got such quick feet and he thinks so quickly."
Still the Fulham manager questioned the goal. The ball appeared to be in Niemi's arms, after Sol Campbell met yet another corner, only to spill out. Following a chaotic scramble Cole poked it into the net. "I'm not sure it was a free-kick," Coleman said. He doesn't mind goalkeepers being challenged but called for "consistency", contrasting what happened with the penalising of Fulham's Michael Brown for a similar challenge in the recent meeting with Chelsea.
The tone for Portsmouth's profligacy was set early. After just three minutes Lomana LuaLua, recalled to the attack and relentlessly tricky, outfoxed Zat Knight - not for the last time - and teed up Nwankwo Kanu. The Premiership's leading scorer side-footed wide. Then Sean Davis reached Dejan Stefanovic's cross and, unmarked, had time to pick his spot, only to direct his header against the post.
Next Portsmouth won a free-kick. From it LuaLua drew a startling tip-over from Niemi who then palmed away the striker's shot, after another fine run, before LuaLua mis-hit a volley at the near post. On half-time, Niemi brilliantly saved, one-handed, from Kanu's header after the striker reached a corner.
"The keeper was having one of those days," Redknapp later said. "I thought 'are we ever going to beat him?'" That pattern continued, so it was perhaps inevitable that it was Fulham who scored. Following a rare break-out Knight met Claus Jensen's corner with a header that clippedStefanovic and deceived David James.
It stung Portsmouth into ever more frantic, relentless attacking while Coleman admitted his team retreated even further. Corner after corner was won following wave after wave of forward motion. From one Noé Pamarot rose, only to see his header cannon off the bar while another struck Linvoy Primus on the shins before bouncing off the post. Then Cole intervened with his goal.
But still Portsmouth did not slow down. Niemi denied Benjani Mwaruwari, turning away his strong shot and, once more, blocked from LuaLua. "Brilliant, superb," Coleman said of his goalkeeper, before adding "and terrific." It was some Finnish.Reuse content