Writer: Chris Baldwin
Date:Sunday February 21 2010
20th February 2010
Just how much money could you have won by putting a fiver on Salif Diao to score the winner at Fratton Park last night? The chances are that not one Stoke fan would have taken that gamble, but Diao's 91st minute shot and his first goal in eight years could have been the final nail in the coffin for Pompey and virtually guaranteed Premier League football in the Potteries for another season.
True, it wasn't a game to write home about, but it still had it's fair share of incident with a dubious red card for Andy Wilkinson after he'd collected his second yellow. But for the second time in just four days, it was the side that went down to 10 men that seized the initiative and this time we actually went away with all three points.
Stoke can count themselves lucky as Portsmouth (just as they did at the Brit back in November) played much better football than their 16 points would seem to imply but, as the saying goes, when things are not going for you, you don't get the breaks. They deserved to go in front on 20 minutes when Owusu-Abeyie's pass to Piquionne caught out the Stoke back four with the French striker slotting the ball past Sorensen, but Piquionne was ruled offside, whilst TV replays showed him to be level with Wilko at worst.
Pompey turned up the pressure on the visitors and finally did get the ball in the net after Owusu-Abeyie's shot was stopped by Sorensen but, at full stretch, Tommo couldn't hold onto it and Piquionne was first to the ball and put it in the net from a very acute angle.
Stoke started to get back into a game that was threatening their 2010 unbeaten run. Tuncay fired a good shot straight at James in goal and then the Turkish international had another chance just seconds before half-time, but headed it well wide when it seemed easier to hit the target.
There was a stroke of luck for Stoke at half time when Piquionne departed after sustaining a hamstring injury and after only five minutes the Potters were level when Glenn Whelan's corner ball was met by Robert Huth's head giving James no chance. But the most contentious decision (at least for Stoke fans) was Wilko's sending off with 15 minutes remaining. He'd been justifiably booked just five minutes earlier for pulling Dindane's shirt, but the second was hardly believable with both Dindane and Wilko again battling for the ball. The ref, Mike Dean, believed that Dindane was impeded. TV replays would exonerate Wilko but, by that time, he was already heading down the tunnel.
The Pompey boss, Avram Grant, not surprisingly decided to go on the offensive as a point would be next to useless to the league stragglers. He brought on the former Blades' striker Danny Webber with the home side now playing with four upfront in an effort to snatch all three points.
Pulis countered Grant's tactics by replacing Tuncay with Salif Diao. It's fair to say that Diao's appearance on the pitch in recent months has not been greeted by universal approval amongst Stoke supporters, but Tone obviously rates him as a solid midfielder who can hold the line, even if others think he's more of a liability with his frequent late tackles and poor passing.
Stoke had held on well as the 90 minutes ended and we started the five minutes of added-on time. Then it was the Potters who broke away with Ricardo Fuller making a run for the goal line before turning it goal wards for Diao, who was steaming in, to bury the ball in the roof of the net from six yards out for the winner.
I have to admit that my first assumption was that it was Sidibe who had scored as who'd have expected Diao to be anywhere near? Certainly not Big Tone, who said later that he didn't realise Salif knew how to make it over the half way line.
So, our unbeaten record continues - albeit with a little bit of help from the officials for once. The only worry now is that we seem to play better with ten than eleven men....
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Date:Sunday February 21 2010
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