FA6: Coasting to Wembley
Spurs have completed the line-up for the FA Cup semi-finals - and of course our diligent Cup watcher Neil Redpath will be there, for his lucky 13th round...
FA Cup Sixth Round: Portsmouth v Birmingham Saturday March 6, Fratton Park
The Sixth Round sent your FourFourTwo traveller to the south coast for an intriguing tie between Portsmouth and Birmingham. ItÃ¢ÂÂs sad to think that this long and memorable journey is coming to an end. A journey which started five miles from my house with a match witnessed by me and one man and his dog (maybe a few more than that but not many) will finish in the capital nine months later before me and 89,999 fans.
I had visions of driving the 204 miles down to Portsmouth and my car giving up on the M25 only to be sat there missing the kick-off while waiting for the AA to eventually turn up and tow me home. I wasnÃ¢ÂÂt going to risk it, and booked a train from Norwich to Stratford, Stratford to Waterloo and then Waterloo down to Fratton. That's a nice four-hour 30-minute journey made even better by the lunchtime kick-off. Nothing whets the appetite like getting up at 5am.
The train down to Fratton from Waterloo had a large number of Birmingham fans present, all making their way down from the Midlands. Opposite us, a father and son in Birmingham Blue were sitting there enjoying a cider after their long trek from... Ramsgate.
Gary and Luke, regulars at St Andrews, had come across country for the day and seemed to be enjoying the friendly banter with me about the Liverpool League Cup final in 2001 Ã¢ÂÂ a bad Millennium memory banished a year later by their play-off win against Norwich.
They seemed to know Portsmouth well having watched Blues play there before, so I decided to tag along to a pub full of Pompey and Birmingham fans. Everyone seemed in high spirits, the walk from the station, past numerous flags outside shops and pubs supporting their club in their time of hardship, was a short one to the nearest public house.
The Birmingham fans were in jubilant mood and happy to still be in the FA Cup at this stage. The Portsmouth fans just seemed happy to still be in existence after the week they had been through. After a quick drink we head to the ground, past a few more banners and flags hanging out of windows and cars, and I take my seat five minutes before kick-off.
AND THEY'RE OFF...
The atmosphere is brilliant, with drums beating and the Pompey Chimes ringing around the stadium. The sell-out crowd are in full voice as the teams get under way.
Portsmouth start as they mean to go on with John Utaka testing Joe Hart after only 20 seconds. Frederic Piquionne looks dangerous as Pompey push forward. There are a few efforts from Lee Bowyer and James McFadden, fielded by an in-form David James, but other than this Portsmouth look the better team with Joe Hart having to be in fine form for the remainder of the half.
Into the mixer...
The half-time whistle blows, and I realise that in my haste to get to the ground earlier I had completely forgotten to pick up a programme. After speaking to several stewards I finally find out they had sold out. The megastore, situated across from the stadium, is likely to be my best bet so a sprint at the final whistle will be in order.
The second half kicks off and like the first half, Portsmouth nearly go ahead within 20 seconds Ã¢ÂÂ and again it's Utaka denied by the brilliant, World Cup-bound Joe Hart.
But even he can't keep them out forever, and halfway through the second period a corner is swung in and Piquionne bundles home at the far post. With the fans in celebratory mood, they may not even realise what's happening when three minutes later Jamie OÃ¢ÂÂHaraÃ¢ÂÂs through ball is slotted away by the quick-firing Piquionne.
Fratton in the afternoon
Portsmouth are on their way back to Wembley in April. A late disallowed goal by Liam Ridgwell (which seems on later inspection to be legitimate) still wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt have been enough to stop the team from the south coast heading to the Capital.
AND I'M OFF...
As the whistle sounds I run across the road to the megastore to pick up a programme Ã¢ÂÂ only to find thereÃ¢ÂÂs no one about: they seem to have stayed in the ground celebrating and don't look likely to leave anytime soon. Lucky for me, it lets me get a quick getaway for my long journey home...
A good weekend of FA Cup action saw Chelsea coast through against Stoke and the mighty Reading, although valiantly leading 2-0 at half time against Villa, were completely outplayed in the second half to end their respectable FA Cup run with a 4-2 defeat.
Wembley, Wembley, IÃ¢ÂÂll be wearing some teams colours? And IÃ¢ÂÂm off to Wembley...
Previously, on The Long Road To Wembley:
FA5: A proper Cup thriller at lastFA4: A paid-up member of the Royal familyFA3: There's only one f in freezing at F-f-f-fulhamFA3 preview: The Third man marches on LondonFA2: South beats North with easeFA2 preview: A North(ampton)m vs South(ampton) clashFA1: Fire and ice at the AbbeyFA1 preview: Enter the big boysFA4Q: Barked shins, dark toilets & no piesFA4Q preview: Ploughing throughFA3Q: A local affair at LowestoftFA3Q preview: All hail the 4x4ersFA2Q: Coke, poodle rock & half a fenceFA2Q preview: Let's spend a night togetherFA1Q: Lawro, ducks & a care homeFA1Q preview: The preliminaries are overFAP: Dogs, daughters & dodgy telliesFAP preview: Preliminary problemsFAEP: Dereham dreams alive and kickingFAEP preview: The long road starts here