How Portsmouth won the 2008 FA Cup

Portsmouth FA Cup 2008

In last week’s piece, I spoke about Wigan Athletic’s heroic 1-0 FA Cup win against Manchester City in 2013 and how the years that followed were a turbulent time for the club.

However, they weren’t the first football team to win the FA Cup and face years of torrid relegations and administration. Portsmouth FC in 2008 managed some history of their own when they beat Cardiff City 1-0 in Wembley, winning their second FA Cup trophy in the club’s history.

The years that followed would be an up-and-down rollercoaster for Pompey, with their FA Cup victory being one of their highest points in recent years.

So, in my latest piece, I’ll be going through Portsmouth’s famous FA Cup victory and also looking at the club’s downward trajectory in the years that followed their momentous win at Wembley.

The road to Wembley

Back in 2008, Portsmouth was in the Premier League, and thus entered the tournament in the third round. Ipswich Town would await them at Portman Road on the 4th of January. In a close encounter, striker David Nugent, coming off the bench as a substitute, scored the only goal of the game with 51 minutes gone. Sending Portsmouth into the next round.

Their fourth-round tie would be against Plymouth Argyle, who played in the Championship at the time, at Fratton Park, home of Pompey. The away side took a shock lead early in the first half when midfielder Chris Clark scored his first goal for Plymouth, which came from a deflection off Hermann Hreiðarsson.

For a little while, it appeared that a shock was on the cards, but Harry Redknapp’s men were able to respond when midfielder Lassana Diarra, who recently joined the south coast outfit, converted a corner kick from Pedro Mendes in the 34th minute.

The hosts took full control of the game and managed to go on and win the tie when Niko Kranjčar scored after an eight-yard pass from right-back Glen Johnson found the Croatian international, burying the chance into the back of the net, giving Portsmouth a 2–1 victory and progression to the next round of the FA Cup.

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Preston North End would be up next for Redknapp and his players as they took on the Lillywhites at Deepdale during the fifth round of the FA Cup. Much like the third round, there wasn’t much in the game, but Pompey managed to find a way to win.

With only seconds of the game remaining, Preston midfielder Darren Carter attempted to clear a corner kick from Kranjčar but struck the ball into his own net. Sending the travelling Pompey fans into raptures as their team progressed into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

Fellow Premier League outfit Manchester United, managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, awaited Redknapp’s men at Old Trafford. Naturally, the home side dominated the proceedings but couldn’t find a way past David James in the Pompey goal.

But then, Pompey got a huge breakthrough when United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak was judged to have brought down Milan Baroš in the penalty area, resulting in the Polish shot-stopper being sent off. Sulley Muntari converted the spot kick and the away side managed to hold on and pick up an amazing victory at Old Trafford, sending them through to the FA Cup semi-finals.

In the semi-final at Wembley, Championship side West Bromwich Albion would be Portsmouth’s opponents, with the Baggie’s appearance in an FA Cup semi-final already being a great feat in itself.

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Throughout their FA Cup run,  Redknapp’s men had a knack for edging out teams by one goal, and the semi-final was no different as both sides couldn’t be separated for much of the match. However, Pompey yet again found a way to win when Striker Nwankwo Kanu side-footed the winning goal of the match. Sending Portsmouth to their first FA Cup final since 1939.

2008 FA Cup Final: Portsmouth vs Cardiff City

The final, taking place on the 17th of May 2008, was played in front of 89,874 spectators, a record attendance for a football match in the new Wembley since it was rebuilt in 2006.

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Portsmouth has the first effort on goal from Muntari’s long free-kick, but it was comfortably saved by Cardiff goalkeeper Peter Enckelman.

Cardiff then went on the attack not long after when Joe Ledley played in Pual Parry who broke through the opposition defence and advanced towards goal before James was able to push the ball away at his feet.

The team from Wales looked the more threatening in the opening 15 minutes, Parry and Kevin McNaughton had goal attempts. BBC reporter Chris Bevan noted that Cardiff had enjoyed “a decent start and they certainly don’t look nervous”.

But shortly afterwards, Pompey nearly took the lead when John Utaka’s cross found Nwankwo Kanu in the penalty area. He managed to evade both a defender and the opposition goalkeeper before hitting the outside of the post from a narrow angle.

Chances continued to be made throughout the first half, Parry and Roger Johnson failed to hit the target after the ball was played in from a set-piece. For Portsmouth, Kanu shot from long range, but his shot went well over the crossbar, and Enckelman was forced to punch the ball clear from Glen Johnson’s cross.

It looked as though we could be heading for 0-0 at the halftime interval, but in the 39th minute, Pompey got the breakthrough when Utaka crossed the ball close to the goal line from the right. Enckelman palmed the ball away but only to the feet of Kanu who was able to scoop the ball into the net to give his side the lead.

Cardiff picked themselves up quickly to get an equaliser which they nearly got when McNaughton narrowly failed to connect with Parry’s cross shortly after. Dutch centre-back Glenn Loovens thought he made the score 1-1 when he forced the ball into the net from a corner just minutes before halftime, but his effort was ruled out for handball.

The second half kicked off in a more sedate fashion and the first significant chance of the half came after ten minutes when Roger Johnson’s header hit the side netting. Redknapp’s men responded quite sharply as Utaka broke free of the defence and played in Kanu, but his shot was deflected wide by Loovens for a corner.

Cardiff manager Dave Jones made his first substitute on the hour mark Aaron Ramsey was brought on in place of Peter Whittingham. Redknapp made his first change shortly afterwards Utaka was replaced by Nugent having sustained an injury minutes earlier.

Jones also brought on Steven Thompson to replace Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in the attack, but the Welsh side still struggled to create any clear-cut opportunities until Loovens once again popped up to cause issues from a corner. He was able to connect with a diving header but hit his attempt into the ground and the ball bounced over James’ goal.

Cardiff began to tire as the Pompey defence mostly contained the Bluebird’s attacking threat. They continued to push to the very end, but they couldn’t create anything of significance as the referee blew the final whistle, crowning Portsmouth as FA Cup Champions for the second time in the club’s history.

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Redknapp and his players erupted in celebration as much as the Pompey fans in the stadium, creating history for the south coast outfit and sending them into FA Cup folklore. It also meant that Portsmouth would be playing in the Europa League next season, something which the players and fans could look forward to.

The aftermath

In the following season, despite the aura of the Europa League, the occasion got to the Pompey players as they crashed out of the competition in the group stages, finishing 4th in their group with only four points.

Manager Harry Redknapp would leave the club to join Tottenham Hotspur later that year and after Tony Adam’s brief stint in charge of the team, Avram Grant took over as manager for the 2009/10 season.

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Grant would guide Pompey to their second FA Cup final in three years, but would ultimately lose out 1-0 to Chelsea at Wembley courtesy of a Didier Drogba goal.

In the following two years, the club would face financial hardships as their big money spending came back to bite them. The issue of player wages continued as the club tried desperately to look for new owners for a huge injection of cash whilst selling their key players.

They would be relegated from the Premier League in 2011 and would face back-to-back relegations as the south coast side dropped down to the third division in 2012. By the time Pompey got their act together off the pitch, they had been relegated to League Two and it wouldn’t be until 2017 when the club would be promoted back into League One under the management of Paul Cook.

Their FA Cup victory in 2008 seems like a distant memory to many Portsmouth fans, and now that the club is finally in a healthy position off the pitch, the Pompey faithful are optimistic that they can go on and achieve great things once again. Just like they did all those years ago.