"Monday night to me now means nothing in terms of winning." So said Alan Pardew on Saturday night, 48 hours before his West Ham side face Manchester City in their FA Cup quarter-final at the City of Manchester Stadium.
It seems scarcely credible that Pardew should not care about tonight's result, especially when you consider that victory and a favourable semi-final draw could see them in their first FA Cup final since 1980. If they face Chelsea or Liverpool in Cardiff, even if they lose, they would be in the Uefa Cup.
Thanks to the madness of television scheduling for this year's quarter-finals, West Ham and City find themselves as the unlucky ones playing in a game that is equally important for both clubs, just two days after a Premiership fixture.
Pardew was hit even harder than his counterpart by an exacting extra-time Cup replay against Bolton last Wednesday and, understandably, he made changes against Portsmouth to ensure they have the best possible chance of beating City.
With their league status safe and the Cup now a priority, it is what any manager would have done, but unfortunately it back-fired. He was without the injured goalkeeper Shaka Hislop and winger Matthew Etherington, both of whom are doubts tonight. He kept his first-choice defence, but the right-back Lionel Scaloni in particular gave an appallingly sloppy display.
The main changes were in midfield and that was where Portsmouth, with a resurgent Sean Davis and Pedro Mendes, were able to dominate. Pardew, presumably, will not be fielding Yanev Katan, who was making his first Premiership start, or Clive Clarke, a full-back pushed into left midfield, tonight. Neither looked capable of causing Pompey's reserves any difficulty, let alone a City team at home.
Pardew did excuse himself, with some justification. "I was in a no-win situation with picking teams for the League and the Cup," he said. "I had to look at my players, assess who I had. But I knew that, looking at my team on Saturday, the focus was not right."
That was clear inside the opening 20 minutes. Pompey had not scored in over six hours on the road and had not won in nine away games, but they were swiftly in control and had missed two good chances before Lomano LuaLua, influential in three goals, scored his first goal since December. Davis doubled the lead shortly after and then Mendes notched up his third long-distance strike in two games.
Teddy Sheringham and Yossi Benayoun scored for the hosts, with a riposte by Svetoslav Todorov in between, but the Hammers were never in contention.
This game marked Harry Redknapp's first return to Upton Park since being sacked five years ago and, after a warm reception, two defeats for his relegation rivals and a satisfying result, he said: "It was a good time to play them, they had to make changes. But we've got some confidence now, which is key to anything in life. We had the win last week and there's been a much better feeling about the place." The feeling around West Ham is not so buoyant right now.
Goals: LuaLua (19) 0-1; Davis (25) 0-2; Mendes (42) 0-3; Sheringham (69) 1-3; Todorov (76) 1-4; Benayoun (90) 2-4.
West Ham United: Walker; Scaloni, Ferdinand (Fletcher, 71), Gabbidon, Konchesky; Katan (Harewood, h-t), Reo-Coker, Dailly, Clarke (Benayoun h-t); Zamora, Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Bywater (gk), Ashton.
Portsmouth: 3-5-2: Kiely; Primus, O'Brien, Taylor; Priske, O'Neil, Mendes, Davis, D'Alessandro; LuaLua, Mwaruwari (Todorov, 57) Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Karadas, Pamarot, Routledge.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: West Ham Harewood; Portsmouth Mendes.
Man of the Match: LuaLua.
Attendance: 34,837.Reuse content