Portsmouth slip up in chase for UEFA Cup spot

Portsmouth 0 Blackburn 1

Portsmouth 0 Blackburn 1

Roque Santa Cruz’s 21st goal of the season virtually ended Portsmouth’s chase for fifth place in the Premier League.

After a delightful one-two with Jason Roberts in the 73rd minute, Blackburn’s Paraguayan striker claimed his sixth goal in the last seven games.

Santa Cruz left Jamie Ashdown helpless after the stand-in Portsmouth goalkeeper had punched out just seconds earlier to defy the same striker in the air.

Pompey could find no reply and finished goalless again at home. They can still get into Europe by beating Cardiff in the FA Cup final next month but, on this showing, even that could be in doubt.

With David James missing his first Premier League game since joining from Manchester City at the start of last season there was little in the first half - apart from Jermain Defoe’s unquenchable appetite for a shot at goal and David Bentley’s midfield movement and style for Blackburn – to interest watching England manager Fabio Capello.

He would certainly have been unimpressed by the poor quality of passing and lack of creativity in the opening 25 minutes.

However, with Blackburn’s ability to fire penetrating crosses from both flanks - especially Morten Gamst Pedersen – Pompey’s defence, lacking the height of suspended Hermann Hreidarsson, came under occasional pressure.

And after Defoe had missed three plausible opportunities at the other end – one ruled out for the narrowest of offsides – Ashdown had to make a splendid save to keep out a fierce shot by Roberts, who once had a loan spell at Portsmouth.

Glen Johnson did just enough to stop Bentley, homing in on the far post, reaching a deep delivery from the right by the mobile Santa Cruz.

And Bentley was dangerous again with a run down the inside left channel in the 34th minute, finishing with a flicked shot off the outside of his right foot which Ashdown reached up and grabbed just above his head.

Defoe had the ball in the net a minute later for Pompey, running through the centre onto a through pass by Johnson only to be flagged offside although Stephen Warnock, out on Blackburn’s left, might have been playing him on.

By the time Defoe struck his shot past Brad Friedel, though, the whistle had gone and the Blackburn players had given up running.

Defoe would not quit, though. Two minutes later he surged from the right to a position just outside the area and fired a low drive inches wide of Brad Friedel’s left hand post.

The goalkeeper then easily stopped a tame header by John Utaka from Sulley Muntari’s cross but Pompey, at last, were beginning to look a threat.

And it was too close for Rovers’ comfort after 36 minutes when Kanu and Utaka combined to work another opening for Defoe who this time failed to trouble the goalkeeper.

Yet within seconds Blackburn could have gone ahead but for a diving save by Ashdown who did well to keep out Roberts.

The rebound fell for Santa Cruz but the striker was unusually slow to size up the situation and weight of numbers enabled Pompey to clear the ball.

He was to make up for it later of course and Roberts would have added a second soon afterwards but for Ashdown’s smart reactions which had earlier defied Ryan Nelsen’s header.

But despite the return of Kanu and the later appearance of Milan Baros as substitute, Pompey had little up front to support Defoe who was booked for kicking the ball away in frustration when again flagged offside in the second half.

Muntari missed a great chance to level, scuffing substitute Kranjcar’s cross beyond the far post and a minute later Santa Cruz extracted the full punishment.

Rovers’ only other moment of danger was when Friedel almost gave the ball away to Baros in the six-yard box after controlling a back-pass.

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