Monday, 24 January 2011

Portsmouth 2 Leeds United 2

Simon Grayson welcomed back striker Luciano Becchio, and defenders George McCartney and Leigh Bromby into his starting line-up for the clash with Portsmouth.
Grayson had spoken highly of the quality of Pompey's best Xi and there were chances at both ends inside the opening two minutes. Portsmouth were first to raid with a low cross which Kanu mis-judged, and Max Gradel forced Jamie Ashdown into making an unconvincing save that saw the Pompey keeper beat his shot away.
Next up, Kanu won a corner after the Leeds defence stood off him and his shot was deflected wide. From the corner, Greg Halford rattled the bar with a header.
United manager Grayson was also incensed inside the opening 10 minutes when Liam Lawrence appeared to go to ground in dramatic fashion after losing the ball to Robert Snodgrass, but referee Alan Taylor ignored any claims for a penalty.
The game swiftly settled down, though, and Leeds again looked to play the passing football that has proved so successful in recent weeks.
Paul Connolly was the first booking of the afternoon, collecting his ninth of the season for a foul on Joel Ward, and the hosts had a great chance from the resultant free-kick. The ball was swung in from deep, Kanu held it up, and David Nugent smashed a great opportunity high over the bar.
Moments later, Nugent found himself in the clear when Ritchie Da Laet played a ball over the top, but on this occasion he failed to bring the ball under control.
The home side did enjoy some decent pressure, Becchio heading away successive corners before John Utaka sent a shot wide of the upright.
And Portsmouth did get their noses in front on 26 minutes when Lawrence cut in from the left and fed Ward, whose shot from distance squeezed home.
Moments later, Kasper Schmeichel had to save well from Utaka who also cut in from the Portsmouth left to work himself an opening.
The goal stirred the home support into life and Leeds were looking a little off the pace during the opening half-hour.
But United fashioned out a decent chance on 34 minutes when Max Gradel and Watt combined to feed Jonny Howson on the edge of the box, but his shot was wide.
As the game headed towards the interval, Gradel felt he had a shot handled after great work by Watt, and Leeds were certainly battling hard to try and get a foot back in the game.
But Alex Bruce had to make on headed clearance in stoppage time before the whistle blew to allow Leeds to re-group.
United were right back in it within 76 seconds of the re-start, though. Robert Snodgrass whipped in a free-kick, Howson created an opening, and Becchio smashed the ball home to level the scores.
Moments later, Johnson smashed a free-kick over the bar and it was clear that Leeds had come out on the front foot.
A power failure casued some amusement among the visiting fans before the hour-mark, prompting some sarcastic observations from the travelling faithful. Ironically, there was also a power failure on United's last league visit in 2003.
United were attacking the MIlton End, which housed another sell-out away support, and it took an important header from Halford to clear a Snodgrass when Leeds threatened again.
Ashdown was also called upon on the hour mark to get down well to save from Howson, but moments later the hosts were back in front.
Utaka used his physical strength well to latch onto a ball over the top and he was able to stab a shot wide of Schmeichel to restore Portsmouth's advantage.
But the lead lasted barely two minutes. Davide Somma was introduced in place of Watt immediately after the goal and his first touch was to latch onto a Becchio through ball to tuck it beyond Ashdown.
United were starting to press now and after some great play by Gradel and Johnson, Somma was denied by some quick thinking. The ball broke to Gradel and he was also denied by a block.
One-time Leeds loan man Carl Dickinson blocked another effort from Snodgrass after the Scot did well to work himself an opening.
But on 74 minutes the floodlights quite literall went out on the game. forcing the referee to halt proceedings. There followed an anxious period of several minutes before the lights flickered back on and play resumed.
Even though play had been suspended while Portsmouth were moving towards goal, Leeds had been in the ascendancy, and Grayson's men had to look to resume with the same impetus.
But it was the home side who fashioned out a chance when Ibrahima Sonko placed a header wide.
When Leeds threatened, Ricardo Rocha was booked for a foul on Becchio as the South American looked to make a run on goal.
The free-kick saw Snodgrass swing the ball in and Howson headed just wide.
The United midfielder also forced Ashdown into making a great save when he drilled in a shot from just inside the box. Gradel also fired over for Leeds after a corner.
Still, United progressed and Snodgrass, cutting inside again, sent a shot just wide of the upright.
Then, three minutes from the end of normal time, the floodlights went out once again, causing another halt. This time the break was for a full 10 minutes before play resumed again, for the final time.
The last rites were played out in a surreal atmosphere, and the referee wasted little time in blowing the final whistle on a game that had descended into farce.
On the plus side, it was another important point for Grayson's side to keep them pushing near the top of the division.

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