United 4 Pompey 1
Manchester United hit four past Portsmouth's David James to reach the 5th round of the FA Cup. I'm aware of the fact that only two of these goals stood as valid - but all of them were perfectly good goals so actually we had to score four to scrape through.
United weren't at their creative best without Louis Saha, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. The former pair were rested while Rooney started the game on the bench. But any doubts about whether United can win without Ronaldo were dispelled: as I've said we scored four against a Portsmouth side with a resolute defence that included former Arsenal players Campbell and Lauren.
The latter showed where he came from: he theatrically collapsed under a Scholes challenge in the first half, clutching his face and rolling around in pain. Needless to say, he survived Ginger Ninja's assault without serious injuries.
The first half started at great pace and Pompey had an early penalty claim when O'Neill came chasing a long ball and the advancing Kuszczak appeared to trip him. Replays showed there was no contact so Riley made the correct decision.
He was wrong, however, in the 13th minute when waved play on after Vidic's header was turned behind the line by James and though Pedro Mendes cleared it at once, it was clear the ball got over the line. The assistant somehow failed to spot it.
United were not too disheartened by this mistake and kept on pressing for a goal but put too much emphasis on attacking through the middle where the pitch was evidently overcrowded. Giggs made too many mistakes whilst Larsson and Solskjaer worked hard but uneffectively. It's the first time they started a match together so it's early to say they are not a good partnership but they seemed to miss someone who distracts defenders and creates chances for them so the first half ended goalless.
Early in the second period Pompey had two good chances but Primus headed over the bar and Andy Cole failed to connect properly to a low cross. The ex-United front man seemed desperately lonely up front he was simply invisible in the grasp of Vidic and Rio. No wonder Redknapp substituted him but his replacement Kanu wasn't more effective though undoubtedly increased the number of former Arsenal players on the pitch.
Before his cameo, however, United scored their second goal when Gary's fantastic chip found Larsson on the right who fired the ball into the far corner from 15 yards - but now the other assistant came to Portsmouth's aid and ruled out the goal for offside, a wrong decision, as replays showed.
United struggled against the visitors defence and though they enjoyed the lion's share of possession, it seemed Redknapp could get the replay he came for. But the Sir Alex Ferguson introduced Wayne Rooney and their hopes were shattered.
I would not say Rooney instantly made the difference. He was lively, just as Solskjaer but struggled to produce anything in a crowded penalty box. Who REALLY changed the game was Larsson: Pompey have lost the ball in front of their own area, the Swede instantly released Giggs and the unimpressive Welshman's low cross left Rooney with an easy tap-in.
The tension was lifted and we flew over Portsmouth. Six minutes later, and the moment of brilliance arrived. Receiving the ball 25 yards out, Rooney left James stranded with a delightful chip and instantly there was pandemonium in the stands. After long weeks of debate about whether Wayne has lost his touch forever the sun is shining again now: we could most definitely see he's still capable of wonderful things.
The relief on Rooney's face and in his movement was obvious. His passing became as slick as it had been in April 2006, he beat Campbell with such a beautiful touch that left the crowd gaping for breath.
On the other end, Pompey scored a trademark Lampard goal. Mendes' shot from 30 yards seemed to pose no real danger but the ball got a deflection on Kanu, totally deceiving poor Kuszczak and rolled into the net.
United have not lost their nerve and we weren't threatened with another Arsenal-style finish. Park missed a glorious chance after he controlled a long ball and Rooney fired over the bar after, as mentioned earlier, beat Campbell with his first touch.
All in all, it wasn't a really good performance - and we still scored four goals against the team sitting in sixth position in the Premiership. Good job.
Gary Neville 7
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