Another kick where it hurts for Pompey

ROUND ONE to Tottenham Hotspur.

In a relatively straight forward FA Cup semi-final dress rehearsal, Spurs brushed away a disappointing Portsmouth side to give Harry Redknapp’s men a real chance of Champions League football.

Portsmouth old-boys Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar combined to give Tottenham their sixth successive victory and boost Redknapp’s hopes of a first top-four finish in 18 years. For Portsmouth, relegation awaits – although they do have that Wembley date to look forward to in two weeks.

No less than five owners have toyed with Pompey, the decrepit puppet on broken strings, this season – a campaign that has lurched from one catastrophe to the next. Extinction was once a possibility but in a rare success story this season, Pompey managed to survive their winding up order but staying in the Premier League this year is beyond them.

There could be, incredibly, a silver lining to their dire campaign with the stricken south coast strugglers at Wembley on April 11 to contest an FA Cup semi-final against Spurs. Portsmouth won the trophy with expensive players on high wages and that’s why they are struggling to keep their heads above water at present – but they could yet win the trophy again.

Only two years ago, Kranjcar was part of a Portsmouth side that lifted the FA Cup and the Croatian midfielder – who didn’t celebrate his goal against his former side – revealed after the game he had foreseen the desperate circumstances at the club.

” I didn’t celebrate out of respect to Portsmouth and their fans, none of us that played there are happy with the situation,” he said. “It is sad for them, I wish them well and I hope they get out of it. The signs were coming in the summer when the new owner did not invest in the squad and then with all the new owners changing hands.

“Unfortunately they did not have the resources to build on the FA Cup win and we all know how important money is in football.”

For Avram Grant’s men to have any chance against Spurs at Wembley, they will have to show more fight than they did on Saturday. Granted, they began with a tenacity that tamed Tottenham, but once Crouch headed home Gareth Bale’s cross on 27 minutes, the white flags were out. A meek surrender.

It was not long before David James was picking the ball out of his net again, with Kranjcar impudently tucking home after Hayden Mullins failed to clear Luka Modric’s shot just before half time. Michael Brown and Anthony Vanden Borre both saw the whites of Heurelho Gomes’ eyes in the match, but twice the Brazilian stood tall and denied them. That was as good as it got for the hardy souls that travelled from Portsmouth, more in hope than expectation.

Tottenham haven’t finished in the top four since 1990 but expectancy levels have risen throughout the season and they now have their destiny in their own hands. Aston Villa’s 7-1 annihilation at the hands of Chelsea means that, realistically, only Manchester City and Liverpool would harbour hope of overhauling the Londoners for fourth.

Kranjcar, who escaped doomed Pompey last September, insists Tottenham will not wilt under the pressure of being favourites for that coveted fourth spot.

“I don’t feel the pressure, we are just thinking about winning each game and that will help us achieve our goals,” he added.

“We want to win the FA Cup and get top four – the prospect of Champions League football is massive, it’s the biggest tournament in football.

“I dreamed about the Champions League when I was in Croatia. I think we are well equipped to do well in the that competition but you do need to improve and attract big players.”

Portsmouth’s misery was confounded when Herman Hreidarsson was taken off with what looked like a serious Achilles injury and goalkeeper David James followed with a problem with his calf.

Times have got so tough at the club that defender Steve Finnan admits he would be grateful if they were put out of their misery sooner rather than later.

“It’s been a terrible time with all the injuries. It’s difficult – Herman might have a bad injury but everyone has to get on with it,” Finnan said. “All season it has been one thing after another and in all honesty the players want the season finished now.

“But we do have the rematch against Spurs in the FA Cup so we can look forward to it. Can we win it? Of course we can, why not?”

MATCH RATING: ** – This was over as a contest the minute Spurs opened the scoring. More like a game of attack v defence than a Premier League fixture but some entertaining football from Harry Redknapp’s men nonetheless.

REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire) 6 – Anonymous, which is always a good thing. Let the game flow and hardly had a decision to make.

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