FA Cup – Portsmouth fight their way to FA Cup final

Portsmouth booked an amazing and improbable place in the FA Cup final after beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in extra time of the semi-final at Wembley.

Frederic Piquionne and Kevin-Prince Boateng were the heroes for the 2008 winners, netting in the 99th and 117th minutes respectively to book a place against Chelsea on May 15 a little over 24 hours after their relegation from the Premier League was confirmed.

Piquionne, who was guilty of missing two gilt-edged chances during normal time, sent Portsmouth’s beleaguered fans into dreamland when he made the most of Michael Dawson slipping on the treacherous Wembley turf to knock the ball past Heurelho Gomes.

The unlikely victory was sealed three minutes from the end when Boateng, a former Spurs player, scored from the penalty spot after referee Alan Wiley adjudged Wilson Palacios to have fouled John Utaka in the area.

Wiley had a central role in Tottenham’s downfall. As well as giving the spot-kick despite Palacios getting a touch to the ball, he also disallowed a Peter Crouch goal for a soft foul on David James soon after Pompey had taken the lead.

The tie was riddled with interesting subplots – Portsmouth’s relegation confirmed on Saturday without them kicking a ball, Harry Redknapp facing the club he led to the trophy two years ago, several players featuring who have represented both clubs during their careers – but the main matter in hand was a place in the final in May 15.

To that end, Tottenham began in dominant fashion, with Portsmouth aiming to contain the Lillywhites and hit them on the break.

Jermain Defoe had an effort blocked from close range after five minutes and Crouch had several headed chances as Tottenham won plenty of early corners.

Tom Huddlestone dug out an inswinging volley with the outside of his boot that David James had to tip round the upright.

However, the clearest chance of the half fell to Piquionne. Hassan Yebda took the ball off the toe of Gareth Bale – who was both Tottenham’s outstanding defender and their most threatening attacker – and the Algerian surged up the wing and slipped the ball into the path of Piquionne. The Frenchman was clean through against Gomes, but he struck his shot too close to the Brazilian keeper, who saved with his leg.

Crouch had a shot blocked by Marc Wilson as half-time approached, and David Bentley was denied twice by Hayden Mullins on the follow-up.

Of all the players to have turned out for both sides, former Spurs defender Ricardo Rocha had the most impressive showing, and the Portuguese made a vital diving block to deny Defoe soon after the restart.

Defoe then snatched at another opportunity, which James collected, before being replaced by Roman Pavlyuchenko on the hour.

Just as in the first half, the best chance after the break fell to Piquionne. The striker, on loan from Lyon, met Aruna Dindane’s cross with a stooping header, but he directed it right at Gomes.

Just minutes afterwards James was caught in no-man’s land at a corner but Crouch could only direct his header wide.

Portsmouth occasionally threatened on the break, but on the whole Tottenham continued to hold them back, and Avram Grant’s men had to endure a tense spell before the end of normal time.

Piquionne fired into the sidenetting early in the first period of extra time, while Palacios, Niko Kranjcar and Pavlyuchenko all had sights of goal for Spurs.

But it looked destined to be Pompey’s day when Boateng nodded a Wilson free-kick down for Piquionne, and Dawson’s loss of footing allowed the striker to fire in and send one half of Wembley into ecstasy.

Wiley had the opposite effect on the other half just a few minutes later when James flapped at a corner and Crouch turned it into the net. The England striker wheeled away in celebration, but the whistle had already gone for what was perceived to be a foul on the keeper by Kranjcar, even though it was James who had jumped towards the Croatian midfielder.

As the clock ticked down and Pompey dug their heels in, they were given the chance to secure their return path to the national stadium when Dindane surged towards the Tottenham box. Palacios tracked back and got his leg around Dindane and his toe to the ball, but Wiley pointed to the spot and Boateng fired in a good spot-kick against the club where he spent much of his two-year spell marginalised.

Portsmouth’s place in the final will hold special significance for manager Avram Grant, who as Chelsea boss took them to the Champions League final in 2008.

Tony Mabert / Eurosport

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