Amidst all the Champions League hype yesterday, Portsmouth’s 1-0 away victory at West Ham, keeping their hopes of finishing in 5th place alive, more than sailed under the radar and I would be remiss to not talk about it and its ramifications a little bit.
England killer Niko Kranjcar scored on a terrific effort from just outside the penalty area in the 61st minute for his fifth goal of the year. David James made four saves to preserve another clean sheet, Portsmouth’s 21st of the season. The win was the team’s 9th in their last 11 games in all competitions.
West Ham had their chances, numerous chances actually, but just couldn’t finish. They had seven corner kicks; Portsmouth had four. They had the slight edge in possession, although I don’t find that stat to be particularly useful anyway. They had, obviously, the advantage of playing at Upton Park, where they’ve beaten the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool this seaon.
This is a team that is playing out the string now and aside from pride and for some, perhaps a place on next season’s roster, there’s just not much to compete for. The Hammers are in 10th place and have looked fairly lethargic over the past few weeks. Their spot in the standings appears nearly locked in as Tottenham, five points behind in 11th place, isn’t playing well either, and I can’t see West Ham climbing any higher.
This post is about Portsmouth, though, and I really can’t overemphasize how significant this win was for the South Coast side. With five league games still remaining, Pompey now trails Everton for that automatic berth into the UEFA Cup by four points. This would become moot, of course, if Portsmouth beats Cardiff in the FA Cup final on May 17 to play their way into Europe, but you can’t assume that that will happen.
Portsmouth has a much easier schedule heading down the stretch, with games (in order) against Newcastle, at a struggling Manchester City, against Blackburn, at Middlesbrough, and against Fulham to finish up the season. By comparison, Everton still has to play Chelsea (home), Aston Villa (home), who still has a chance to finish 5th, and Arsenal (away). The Toffees also have to pay a visit to Birmingham City this weekend, and a home date with Newcastle rounds off their year.
Although Portsmouth is behind by four points in the standings, it’s really a five point gap because Everton has the superior goal differential (+22 to +14). With that said, Portsmouth can definitely pad their total against the lesser quality of their opposition, while Everton will probably lose a few goals from that +22 figure.
Great win for Portsmouth yesterday. Their current deficit is more manageable than it would’ve been without that victory, particularly if West Ham would’ve knocked them off and left Portsmouth with nothing. In that case, the gap still would’ve been 7 points and it would’ve taken three out of the last five games to make that up. Look for the difference to be down to 2 points after this weekend, because I can see Everton only getting a draw at Birmingham and Portsmouth should beat Newcastle at Fratton Park. If both results come to pass, game on.