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08 Mar 2008 17:46
Harry Redknapp pulled off a unique FA Cup hat-trick against Manchester United as Sulley Muntari’s second-half penalty sealed a 1-0 victory that sent Portsmouth through to the semifinals for the first time since 1992.
Redknapp, who had previously guided Bournemouth and West Ham to FA Cup wins against United, saw his team win at Old Trafford for the first time in 51 years as Ghana midfielder Muntari netted from the spot after substitute keeper Tomasz Kuszczak had been sent off for felling striker Milan Baros.
Referee Martin Atkinson had earlier denied United a seemingly clear penalty, so his decision to award Portsmouth a spot-kick left United boss Sir Alex Ferguson furious.
Although the FA Cup lies in third place behind the Champions League and Premier League in United’s list of priorities this season, Ferguson resisted the temptation to rest players en masse against Redknapp’s team.
The United starting line-up was as close to full-strength as Ferguson could manage and they looked like a team at the peak of their powers at the start.
United should have been given the chance to go ahead from the penalty spot on seven minutes after Cristiano Ronaldo had been crudely bundled to the floor by defender Sylvain Distin.
Ronaldo had done brilliantly to beat Hermann Hreidarsson on the edge of the penalty area to break into the box and he was heading straight for goal until the French centre-half barged him out of the way.
However, Atkinson ignored United’s appeals, prompting a furious response from Ferguson, who argued with the fourth official before exchanging words on the touchline with Portsmouth coach Joe Jordan.
Portsmouth, operating a defensive 4-5-1 formation, found it difficult to put United under any pressure and their best first-half opportunity came when Croatian midfielder Niko Kranjcar saw a 20-yard effort fumbled by keeper Edwin van der Sar.
But despite their dominance, United proved wasteful in front of goal and Wayne Rooney spurned a golden chance to score on 19 minutes after being released by Ronaldo.
The England striker had a one-on-one with keeper David James at the edge of the penalty area, but he delayed his shot and his hesitation allowed Sol Campbell to make a crucial tackle.
Carlos Tevez picked up the loose ball and shot goalwards from close range, but Glen Johnson was well-placed to head the strike off the line.
Ferguson’s team lacked real threat up-front, but an injury to substitute Louis Saha in the pre-match warm-up left the United boss with few alternatives as his team struggled to worry their opponents in the second-half.
Pompey continued to hold firm, though, and they survived a real scare on 57 minutes when Nani’s corner created three goal-scoring opportunities for United.
Defender Nemanja Vidic’s bullet header from Nani’s cross was well-saved by James, but the loose ball fell to Tevez in the six-yard box. The Argentinian couldn’t free himself to shoot on goal, though, and his half-hearted effort was blocked.
The loose ball fell to Ronaldo on the edge of the penalty area, but the Portuguese winger couldn’t add to his 30 goals already this term as he shot wide from the edge of the area.
United’s misses ultimately came back to haunt them on 78 minutes.
Anderson lost possession and Kusczak, on as a substitute for the injured Van der Sar, hauled down Baros before being deservedly sent off.
Rio Ferdinand had to go in goal for United and he had no chance as Muntari’s cool spot-kick left Ferguson’s treble dream in tatters and put Pompey within touching distance of their first FA Cup final since 1939.—AFP
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