Portsmouth 1 Middlesbrough 0: 'Harry Houdini' nears climax of greatest escape

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The Independent Online

Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp believes he is seven points away from safety - and a well-earned summer holiday with his wife.

Pompey are unbeaten in six matches following yesterday's 1-0 win over Middlesbrough courtesy of Gary O'Neil's winner, Redknapp inspiring Champions League form from his strugglers.

They have 32 points after the remarkable run of results, and Redknapp has a brighter outlook. The hangdog expression has disappeared, and he is peering ahead into what life holds after the battle for survival is over.

"We are in terrific form - and if we do stay up I'm going to take my wife Sandra away for a nice holiday," said Redknapp.

"Just the two of us. Has she deserved it? Not half."

Redknapp, 59, admits when he returned to Portsmouth five months ago he was facing up to a losing battle. The team was entrenched in the bottom three and in need of an injection of quality in the ranks.

Now if they beat Charlton at The Valley tomorrow and then see off relegated Sunderland at home next Saturday, the pressure would be eased for the trip to Wigan and the final Fratton Park date against Liverpool.

It would complete an amazing turn-around.

Redknapp admitted: "At first I thought there was a very slim chance of getting out. There were friends of mine who came to Fratton Park every week - and even they said we had no chance.

"But it was a challenge; I took it on and I wanted to have a go. I never regretted coming back. I feel comfortable here; I enjoy coming to the training ground in the mornings. It may not be the best training ground in the world - but I like it and I feel comfortable.

"But I also felt we weren't quite getting the breaks, and the turning point was probably Pedro Mendes' last-minute goal (to beat Manchester City) which gave everyone a lift and some belief. It lifted the roof of the place.

"We took it on from there - and to pick up 14 points out of 18 is Champions League form. But we have to keep doing that for the last four games.

"The first year in the Premiership here we took 21 points from our last 10 games - and if we can do that again we'll be okay. So we've got seven points to find from our last four games.

"Last year at Southampton we didn't get any breaks at all. I stood on the touchline at Southampton last year with two minutes to go against Middlesbrough. We were 2-0 up - we drew 2-2."

There was no fairytale ending at St Mary's.

"Of course, in the end Southampton went down on the last day of the season," Redknapp recalled.

"When I came back here it didn't look too good. But I brought in some players from Tottenham. Pedro Mendes has done well; the Argentinian boy Andres D'Alessandro has fitted in well, and we've got a terrific crowd with us.

"We like to play open football. But you can't always do it, and we had to dig in against Middlesbrough and hang on to our lead.

"When the referee put that whistle to his mouth I can't tell you what a fantastic feeling it was for me. It was like winning the pools."

Redknapp brought in nine new players during the January transfer window - and ironically, the most expensive has been the least successful.

But £4.4million striker Benjani Mwaruwari - without a goal in 12 appearances - set up midfielder O'Neil's priceless winner against Boro in the 54th minute.

Although they could have added to their tally against a mix-and-match Middlesbrough side, they had the strength to fight a backs-to-the-wall battle in the last 15 minutes.

O'Neil said: "It looked like a bit of a stalemate for a long time - but you have to beat the whatever team the opposition put out.

"It was great to get the goal - and even though you know the UEFA Cup and the FA Cup are Middlesbrough's priority, we have been playing cup finals every week.

"We've got four more to come but we're on a roll, and Benjani is working his socks off. If we can go to Charlton and get another result we'll be in good shape."

REF'S REPORT - Andre Marriner had little to do, with players on both teams behaving well.

FUSSY FACTOR - Marriner did not issue a yellow card, and there were no controversial incidents.

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