What on earth are they supposed to make of this result in the Midlands? The prospects of Birmingham and West Bromwich avoiding relegation took a nasty turn for the worse with Portsmouth's humiliation ofWest Ham weakened by the decision of the Hammers manager, Alan Pardew, to rest key players in advance of tomorrow night's FA Cup quarter-final at Manchester City.
It was a ploy which could not have backfired more wretchedly, nor ended in such a joyous return to Upton Park for the Portsmouth manager, Harry Redknapp. Fielding a joke midfield consisting of one regular, Nigel Reo-Coker, an Israel striker (Yaniv Katan, making his first start), a defender, Christian Dailly, and a reserve, Clive Clarke, who had started only once previously, West Ham paid a predictable price.
The irony was that, with Jimmy Walker making his first appearance in goal this season, Pardew attempted to protect him by fielding his first-choice back four. As he pointed out, they were the weakest unit.
Up front, instead of Marlon Harewood and Dean Ashton, Pardew paraded Teddy Sheringham and Bobby Zamora, observing that they had a better scoring record than anyone from Portsmouth. Until yesterday, that is. Lomano LuaLua frolicked up front as Hammersditheredand, unsurprisingly, midfield was a playground for Pedro Mendes and Andres D'Alessandro.
Pardew admitted "bitter disappointment" at his side's performance, adding: "I will take no pleasure if we win on Monday night. Our last two League games have obviously been affected by the Cup. As good as Portsmouth were, I had players today who didn't give me the lot."
Having enjoyed a warm welcome, Redknapp found the afternoon getting cheerier as West Ham floundered, but he has sympathy for his old club. "It is scandalous what they are having to do. Extra time [in the Cup] on Wednesday and then having to play the next round on Monday. Where has tradition gone?"
There had already been a warning, with Benjani Mwaruwari firing past a post with the home defence at sea, before Portsmouth went in front after 19 minutes. Matthew Taylor's cross from the left was driven high into the net by LuaLua, and there could have been a quick second, Gary O'Neil miskicking with only Walker to beat.
Six minutes after the first goal, Portsmouth fashioned another, this time from the right side. Brian Priske crossed, Mwaruwari missed but Sean Davis had time to control the ball and strike joy into Pompey hearts. "We are staying up," they chorused.
West Ham enjoyed their best quarter of an hour after going two down. LuaLua cleared off the line from Reo-Coker and Sheringham curled a free-kick inches wide. But three minutes from half-time Pedro Mendes, scorer of two goals last weekend, hit another, and it was a candidate for goal of the season. Receiving a short pass from D'Alessandro, Mendes sent a 30-yarder into the top corner.
With Harewood and Yossi Benayoun on for the second half, West Ham could not help but look better. Harewood hit the bar, and when Paul Konchesky was next to strike wood, the ball rebounded kindly for Sheringham to start the comeback.
It was short-lived. LuaLua worked his way in from the corner flag to present the substitute Svetoslav Todorov with a tap-in. Benayoun's injury-time score was not even a consolation.Reuse content