Portsmouth frets that Nations Cup could wreck dream

Harry Redknapp fears the African Nations Cup could wreck Portsmouth’s European ambitions after his side’s impressive 4-1 victory over Newcastle strengthened their top four credentials.

Redknapp acknowledged that Portsmouth’s challenge will be affected more than most of their Premier League rivals by the tournament early next year, when several key players will be missing for up to a month.

The Fratton Park boss had four African players in his starting line-up and two more on the bench at St James Park on Saturday.

The prospect of losing the likes of Ghana’s Sulley Muntari, Senegal’s Papa Bouba Diop and Nigeria’s John Utaka fills Redknapp with dread.

He said: ”We’re a big, strong imposing team with ability and a bit of pace but we’ll lose four or five players for the Nations Cup and that will leave us short.

”I only hope this result doesn’t mean people are taking notice of us now. I just want us to keep picking up points away from home like we have been doing.”

A UEFA Cup place is well within Portsmouth’s grasp but Redknapp played down any chance of challenging for a Champions League place despite a win that stretched their unbeaten league run to seven games.

It was Portsmouth’s fifth consecutive away win in all competitions and ended a 58-year wait for a victory at St James’ Park.

It keeps Portsmouth among the early-season front-runners, but Redknapp insists he’s more interested in reaching the 40-point safety mark than dreaming of European football coming to Fratton Park.

He said: ”At the start of the season I thought if we could finish in the top half I’d be delighted and I still feel the same.

”I know people are talking about us being top six now but there are a lot of big clubs in and around us who will come on a run and it’s only early days.

”But if you keep winning away from home as we have been doing, it gives you a chance to do well.”

Benjani Mwaruwari added to his new-found reputation as one of the Premier League’s most deadly finishers to help ensure the contest was over inside the first 11 minutes as Portsmouth tore sorry Newcastle apart.

The visitors surged into an unassailable lead courtesy of an amazing three-goal burst in as many minutes to make it 17 points out of the last 21 available.

Defender Noe Pamarot launched the goal blitz with a stunning left-foot effort into the top corner from 25 yards and Zimbabwean international Benjani doubled the lead within 60 seconds before Utaka rounded goalkeeper Steve Harper to score the third.

Newcastle gave brief hope of a comeback when they reduced their arrears through Charles N’Zogbia with still only 16 minutes on the clock.

But Portsmouth restored their three-goal advantage with 19 minutes left as Croatian midfielder Niko Kranjcar’s in-swinging free-kick from near the touchline found its way past Harper courtesy of a deflection off Steven Taylor.

Newcastle manager Sam Allardyce — who revealed that absent goalkeeper Shay Given is out for up to three weeks with a groin problem — pulled few punches after a first home defeat of the season.

He said: ”I’m devastated and completely gutted because the team I put out on the field is an extension of me. We had a lot of Premier League experience out there but we were our own worst enemy.

”All the hard work we put in during the week was destroyed by basic errors gifting Portsmouth early goals. We can’t carry on defending like that but I can’t cut out players making basic errors.” – Sapa-AFP

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