Sat, Jul


He broke Liverpool's hearts and banished them from the FA Cup, almost cutting Gerard Houllier's job lifeline into the bargain.

Now Shaka Hislop could do likewise to his old employers Newcastle United on Sunday when they put away their ski boots and return to Premiership action.

Should Shaka do so, of course, it would ironically help revive battered Houllier and Liverpool, who are lower than a limbo dancer's belly but must still regroup and attempt to nick Champions League qualification from their big Geordie rivals.

Portsmouth would normally hold no fear for Newcastle, but having been on UEFA Cup duty last evening and then being forced to fly straight on to the south coast to confront a refreshed Shaka and his shakers it could turn out to be a little tricky.

It had better not. Even a draw is out of the question. We've had enough of those to have won the pools. Victory and no less is required.

United have gone to such lowly places as Leeds, Leicester, Wolves, Everton and Blackburn, who all surround Pompey in the bottom six, and drawn every time. Not a solitary victory to help their Euro cause and that is stuttering in the extreme.

Hislop was a popular keeper at St James' Park, even if he had to compete against an even more beloved custodian in Pavel Srnicek who ironically turned up at Pompey to hound him again this season.

However, popularity is no shield should the person concerned dash Geordie dreams. So be warned Shaka!

Cup heroics temporarily over, Lomana LuaLua can return to the home bench in an effort to score the winning goal against a club that still technically owns him and a manager whom he hasn't been reticent to criticise for an alleged lack of opportunity.

A double somersault away into the evening sky is definitely something we don't wish to see from LuaLua, a guy who is so good they named him twice. At least so good at gymnastics!

We would prefer to witness Darren Ambrose celebrating a rare birthday. He's 20 on Sunday and as February 29 comes round only in a Leap Year it's a rare day of party hats for the young man from Harlow who wishes to establish himself as the natural successor to Nobby Solano.

He has two goals to his credit from the subs' bench - one a match-saver at Leicester - and another would be welcome on this special four-yearly day.

What made a Pompey victory over Liverpool that much more startling was the fact manager Harry Redknapp did well to even get out a team. Injuries robbed him of many a trusty warrior including Geordie Steve Stone, ancient attacker Teddy Sheringham, Tim Sherwood, and out-for-the-season Patrik Berger.

Pompey, who started the campaign like an express train, have since slid slowly if not elegantly down the table and now are hovering just above the three dead men.

They are anxious to take care of Newcastle who don't normally get beaten but neither do they consistently perform as they once did, full of attacking vigour, refreshing brightness, and tingling resolution.

United's season has been played in fits and starts. They've been stuck in heavy traffic behind Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea and need to put together a victory run for home.

NA FINAL THOUGHT: Who is going to win the Carling Cup? Frankly, I don't care. When you look at Boro and Bolton you realise it ought to be Newcastle ending their barren trophyless spell.

There will be plenty of quality players on show - foreigners Okocha, Zenden, Juninho, Djorkaeff, Mendieta and Campo - but the teams are hardly top quality overall, are they?