Steeliness at its core

Portsmouth has a major prize for the first time since it was League champion 58 years ago, writes Kevin McCarra.

Seldom has so much goodwill been shown to an FA Cup final. The public wanted to dote on this one, to believe there could be drama without the presence of a Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Torres in the cast. To some extent the nation got its way as Cardiff, from the Championship, were close to being a match for Portsmouth in certain respects.

By the end, all the same, the truth was apparent that key fixtures do not undergo a change of identity merely because the participants have altered. In all but two of the last 15 FA Cup finals the losers have failed to score. Harry Redknapp would have had no need to peek at the statistics. Affable and entertaining as the Portsmouth manager can be, his side already had steeliness at its core.

It was his opposite number, Dave Jones, who named two strikers in his line-up. There would be no such extravagance for the Premier League club, who rightly stuck to their normal 4-1-4-1 formation. Superior ability was nearly guaranteed to take its toll so long as crass mistakes were avoided. Redknapp, in any case, was under a weighty obligation not to misuse this rare opportunity.

His managerial career at last bears the distinction of a trophy but, more importantly, Portsmouth have a major prize for the first time since they were League champions 58 years ago.

It is a feat to please any outsider who has experienced the passion and excitement at Fratton Park that is wildly out of proportion to a ground with a capacity of some 20,000.

Portsmouth had the better opportunities, so much so that Nwankwo Kanu could escape notoriety after being guilty of one of those blunders that usually enter Cup final lore. With a beautiful touch he had lost Loovens in the 22nd minute and gone round the goalkeeper, Peter Enckelman, but then hit the outside of the post when the angle ought to have posed no difficulty in front of an unguarded net.

The Nigerian's waiting time for therapy was brief. A quarter of an hour later John Utaka had no trouble in making a yard on the Cardiff leftback, Tony Capaldi, and putting in a low cross.

It was not a simple delivery but Enckelman, who had been ill at ease from the outset, should, at a minimum, have thrust it far away. His touch was more of a lay-off, inviting Kanu to slip the ball into an open goal.

With that the contest was settled. Financial imbalances could not be overridden by any amount of Wembley romance. Redknapp had little to dread when Jones was obliged to pick an inevitably subdued 36-yearold in Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as one of his forwards. The other, Paul Parry, is more midfielder than striker and could not get the better of James when Joe Ledley released him after 13 minutes.

As the game developed, the authority of the goalkeeper and Sylvain Distin, the centre-half, was imposed. Some, out of habit, will carp that James did not deal with one corner particularly well but the 37- year-old's command of his defence and domination of the penalty area were disheartening for the opposition.

Cardiff also had to reckon with the calibre of Portsmouth's midfield. Pedro Mendes, favoured over Papa Bouba Diop to start in the holding role, was sound and Lassana Diarra looked the outstanding player on the field, although the winning goal rewarded Kanu with the Man of the Match award.

The match itself was perfectly acceptable, especially in the firsthalf, but there was also evidence that the significance of an FA Cup final will always make the contending teams circumspect.

While the victorious players did not cut loose, they have carved out a place of high honour in Portsmouth's history.

The result: Portsmouth 1 (Kanu 37) bt Cardiff City 0.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008