Redknapp reliant on Benjani

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The Independent Online

Harry Redknapp has pulled out of Sunday's Great South Run with a calf injury – but the Portsmouth manager is more concerned about his strike force ahead of three critical matches in eight days.

A home clash with Redknapp's former club West Ham on Saturday night kicks off a tough sequence which then sees Blackburn visit in the Carling Cup and a trip to Newcastle.

And with Kanu and £6m substitute David Nugent on the casualty list, Redknapp said: "Benjani is my only fit striker in training at the moment and if anything happens to him we are in trouble."

Redknapp, who suffered an injury himself training for Europe's premier 10-mile road race, said: "Benjani has done a great job for us since Kanu did his knee against Blackburn last month. But now Nugent is also a doubt as well with a groin problem and Kanu is definitely not ready to come back yet.

"It's the worst time for this to happen when we have such a hard week but we'll just have to get through it and luckily the buzz in the squad is great at the moment, obviously, because we are winning."

Pompey have won their last five games and have soared to fifth in the Barclays Premier League. There is a steely determination among the players to maintain that position and qualify for Europe – something they missed last season by two points – even though the manager insists he will be happy with another top-10 finish.

Redknapp said: "The squad now is as good as we've had here in my time, probably the best.

"We had a great bunch of lads when we were first in the Premier, people like Teddy Sheringham, Yakubu, Steve Stone and Arjen de Zeeuw but this lot might just have the edge. You have to keep improving because this league gets tougher and tougher."

Redknapp spent around £30m during the summer strengthening his side and a powerful African influence has emerged through midfielders Sulley Muntari, the £7.2m club record signing from Udinese, the £3m former Fulham man Papa Bouba Diop and the winger John Utaka, who cost £7m from Rennes.

That trio joined Zimbabwean striker Benjani, a £4.4m buy from Auxerre in January last year and who, after a barren start, has blossomed and is now the Premier League's top scorer on seven goals, five of them from his last three outings.

Redknapp must make alterations with midfielder Sean Davis serving a one-match ban after collecting his fifth yellow card of the season at Wigan last Saturday.

It means a return for Portuguese star Pedro Mendes, who lost his place early in the season through injury.

Redknapp said: "Pedro is a terrific player. He has done nothing wrong but when he was fit again we were playing well and I couldn't change the team.

"His attitude to being left out has been first class. He has never moaned and it is the same with Lauren. He's been in good form, too, but we were able to buy back Glen Johnson from Chelsea and Glen has been superb."

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