Tuesday 20 February 2018

Grant insists Pompey will keep the faith

Piquionne 35
Huth 50, Diao 90

Ian Winrow

OUTWARDLY, at least, Avram Grant remains defiant but it is now impossible to ignore the fact that no matter what the outcome of their courtroom battle to save the club, on the pitch Portsmouth are doomed.

The manager has maintained the conviction that all is not lost and had his side won this game, as they so easily could have done but for poor finishing and even poorer refereeing, they would now be positioned five points off safety. A daunting, but not impossible gap.

Instead, they are marooned eight points adrift after this game slipped from their grasp in the most painful of circumstances with Stoke substitute Salif Diao snatching a breakaway winning goal – his first Premier League strike since 2002 – two minutes into added time.

Grant insisted he and his side will continue to fight until the final game - and that could be at Burnley next Saturday if the club fails to fend off the winding-up petition served by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and due to be heard in the High Court on 1 March – but midfielder Quincy Owusu- Abeyie struck a more sombre note.

“It’s a very bad result because we needed to win,” said the former Arsenal youngster, signed on loan last month from Spartak Moscow. “We still have 12 games to go and who knows what the other teams will do? The first half we were looking for the win and now it looks like game over. It’s the lowest I’ve felt after a game. It looks bad, but we can’t lose faith. You never know, we could pull off a miracle.”

An unlikely escape might still have been on had the referee, Mike Dean, not received misguided advice from his assistant and ruled out Frédéric Piquionne’s early effort for offside. Piquionne finally put Pompey ahead in the 35th minute but Robert Huth levelled five minutes after the break. A point still seemed likely, particularly after Stoke full-back Andy Wilkinson collected a second yellow card in the 73rd minute, until Diao struck. “Salif was meant to give us a little protection when he came on, instead he went and scored the winner,” admitted Huth.

Stoke now look forward to this week’s FA Cup fifth-round replay with Manchester City while Portsmouth’s attention is trained on the boardroom. With the Premier League having decided against allowing the club to offload players to raise funds this week – chief executive Peter Storrie claims the idea was the league’s in the first place – the search for yet another new owner will become increasingly desperate this week “This defeat was very painful,” Grant said. “We have played well in our last three games and got one point. But I believe that if we continue to play like this, it will be good for the future of the club. If the club exists.”

Portsmouth (4-5-1): James ; Finnan (Webber, 86), Wilson, Hreidarsson, Belhadj; Dindane, Yebda (Utaka, 66), Bouba Diop, O’Hara, Owusu-Abeyie; Piquionne (Kanu, h-t). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Rocha, Mullins, Basinas.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Collins; Delap, Whitehead, Whelan, Tuncay (Diao, 76); Sidibe, Fuller (Kitson, 90). Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Lawrence, Beattie, Pugh, Faye.

Referee: M Dean (Wirrall).

Booked: Portsmouth O’Hara, Hreidarsson; Stoke Wilkinson.

Sent off: Wilkinson (73).

Man of the match: O’Hara.

Attendance: 17,208.

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