Portsmouth made it six games unbeaten against West Ham United as the FA Cup finalists ground out a 1-0 victory in a disappointing contest at the Boleyn Ground.
Niko Kranjcar decided matters in the 62nd minute with his fierce shot, giving the visitors the points in a match that had, until then, seemed a certain stalemate. Not even the introduction of Freddie Sears and Carlton Cole off the bench for the closing stages could help Alan Curbishley's men find a way through. All who tried were frustrated by a resolute Portsmouth defence who showed why they are riding high in sixth place and looking to a Wembley date next month.
On a chilly evening in east London, Bobby Zamora returned in place of Cole, who dropped to the bench, while Luis Boa Morte and Nolberto Solano started instead of hamstring victims Freddie Ljungberg and Mark Noble. Zamora and Boa Morte were to be the most lively in the first half-hour and frequently asked questions of former Academy graduate Glen Johnson on that flank. Boa Morte had the first shot of the game on five minutes, collecting from Scott Parker before testing David James - himself returning to the Boleyn Ground like his manager Harry Redknapp.
With nine minutes played, Boa Morte slipped in Zamora along the left and the striker got to the by-line before squaring across goal but no one was on hand to tuck it in. While that pair were proving effective, Dean Ashton was also showing up well - frequently dropping deep and asking questions of the away side. His strike partner Zamora thought he had opened the scoring on 17 minutes when the ball rebounded into his path off Pedro Mendes. The No25 rounded James and from a tight angle saw his right-foot shot just miss the far post.
Portsmouth finally began to find their feet midway through the half with David Nugent - starting in place of the absent Jermain Defoe, the third of Pompey's former Hammers - unleashing a wayward shot that never bothered Green. However, the ball ricocheted off a stanchion behind the goal and smashed into the side-nettiing, causing the travelling fans to momentarily think they had witnessed the deadlock being broken. Only a last-ditch Sol Campbell block two minutes later stopped that happening up the other end with Zamora again the frustrated party.
The last 15 minutes of the half was largely uneventful with Niko Kranjcar, Pedro Mendes, Papa Bouba Diop and Sulley Muntari all trying their luck with speculative shots for Portsmouth. None of those four efforts though would go as close as the 25-yarder that Ashton fired in on James in the last minute of the half. That livened up the Boleyn Ground and there was to be a further chance in the final seconds. Solano was given a free-kick just outside the area, but the defensive wall did its job.
The second half began in similarly muted fashion with only a couple of Kranjcar efforts from distance standing out in the first ten minutes. One was saved, one went over. Johnson then got in on the act with a couple of half-chances of his own before the introduction of Sears in place of Zamora raised home expectations. It was another homegrown talent who was soon bursting into the box though, Anton Ferdinand surging forward from centre-back and nearly getting on the end of a superb Solano pass in front of James.
Portsmouth were in front just after the hour. The impressive Kranjcar received the ball from Muntari and finally made one of those long-range shots count as he fizzed the ball low into Green's right-hand corner. The different intentions of the two managers for the final 15 minutes was underlined by Redknapp swapping lone striker Nugent for Nwankwo Kanu while Curbishley sacrificed Hayden Mullins to put Cole up front alongside Ashton and Sears.
Cole burst down the left soon after and almost picked out Boa Morte. He then nearly flicked on for Ashton but the Portsmouth defence stood firm. In the final ten minutes, Solano went off for John Pantsil as Richard Hughes replaced Pedro Mendes but not even the introduction of the enigmatic Ghanaian could turn things around.