Portsmouth 2 Wigan Athletic 0: Defoe grabs goals but James is Pompey's saviour

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The Independent Online

Jermain Defoe's second goal of the game in the dying seconds of added time might have injected added glee for Portsmouth as they head for their FA Cup semi-final on Saturday, but realists at the club, who include Harry Redknapp, are only too aware that their true hero, once again, was that extraordinary goalkeeper, David James.

Defoe raised his total since joining from Spurs to eight in seven matches, both expertly put away, but they might have struggled to achieve a draw had it not been for James's save of a harshly-awarded penalty, followed by a fantastic, twisting reach to deny Antoine Sibierski's dipping volley.

Redknapp called James "the Ronaldo of goalkeepers, so talented, the best. He was a fantastic signing. People kept throwing silly names at me but there was only one keeper I wanted here. I knew he was different class." It was a strange contest, frequently exciting as much for a defensive bloopers as attacking flair. Wigan's manager, Steve Bruce, while paying tribute to James ("fabulous, he saved his mates today"), sounded envious in pointing out that the quality of strikers was the difference.

"We created five or six chances and they weren't taken, yet Defoe gets half a chance in the first half and it's a goal."

That goal came after half an hour following a comedy of defensive Wigan errors. John Utaka, cutting in from the right, went past Kevin Kilbane, Erik Hagen and Paul Scharner with ease and when he got off a shot it clipped Emmerson Boyce before looping towards the far post, where Mario Melchiot missed his clearing kick. Presented with the gift, albeit from a sharp angle, Defoe scored confidently.

By then Wigan might have been in front. With Portsmouth's back line gaping, Emile Heskey slid a square ball to Antonio Valencia whose low shot seemed destined for the net until Glen Johnson slid in to clear via the underside of the bar.

Wigan upped their commitment at the start of the second half but it seemed likely to gain nothing more than the yellow cards handed out to Scharner and Josip Skoko. Then, with Hermann Hreidarsson off for an achilles injury which needed three stitches and Pompey temporarily down to 10 men, Wigan won a strange penalty.

Valencia, on the edge of the area, slipped while trying to cut inside Sylvain Distin. Contact, if any, was minimal but referee Alan Wiley felt it worthy of a spot kick. This was taken by Taylor, "normally a great striker of a dead ball" according to Bruce, but James went the right way, blocking the kick and no doubt heaving a sigh of relief as Taylor scooped the rebound over.

Taylor immediately made some sort of amends with a crucial tackle on Milan Baros, who had been slipped clear by Defoe, but it did not save him from being replaced as Bruce brought on extra strikers in Sibierski and Marlon King in urgent search of the equaliser. Sibierski came closest with that volley but it was the sort of day when James was unbeatable.

As Wigan continued to press, they were caught out at the end of added time. With their strike battalion, and others, committed upfield, Portsmouth broke away. Niko Kranjcar slid a fine through ball for Defoe to chase. He drew, and beat, a brave Chris Kirkland with ease, leaving Bruce to reflect that defeats elsewhere in the relegation area had been a big help to his club. "We have four of our last six at home," he said. "We need to win a couple of those and we will be OK."

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