‘Pompey pulled off one of the best Great Escapes in Premier League history’

Pedro Mendes scores the winner against Manchester City at Fratton to spark the Blues Great Escape
Pedro Mendes scores the winner against Manchester City at Fratton to spark the Blues Great Escape
Conor Chaplin and Brett Pitman. Picture: Shaun Boggust

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Milan Mandaric cannot recall the identity of the person he uttered the words to, yet the moment is indelibly printed on his memory.

And the Pompey joint-owner’s bold prophecy would uncannily come true as the Fratton faithful basked in the Great Escape.

‘I remember the moment exactly, Pedro picked up the ball, hit it cleanly from around 25-30 yards and it flew into the net,’ he said.

‘I don’t know who it was, it was somebody next to me, but I turned round and said: “that goal may save us, it could go down in history”.

‘Amazing. And that’s what eventually happened.’

It was 11 years ago today when Mendes unleashed one of the iconic goals of modern Pompey history.

Pedro Mendes celebrates his goal

Pedro Mendes celebrates his goal

The Premier League’s bottom club were drawing 1-1 against Manchester City at Fratton Park in a fixture they desperately required a win.

Then Mendes, who had already netted against Stuart Pearce’s side, strode forward in stoppage-time, flicking the ball over Bradley Wright-Phillips’ foot before crashing a shot past David James.

That March 11, 2006, occasion yielded a first win in nine matches for an increasingly under-fire Harry Redknapp, having previously collected just the single point during that grave period.

Come seven weeks later, the Blues had sealed top-flight safety against all the odds.

Mandaric added: ‘I told Pedro many times when I subsequently saw him at the training ground “I will never forget your goal, it means so much to all of us at the club”.

‘My special football affair was Portsmouth, my time there in England was wonderful, it’s a club I love so much.

‘And of all my memories, that goal is one of my favourites.

‘It was a difficult time to be honest. We were bottom of the league but you never give up, you always have to be positive and hopeful. It was so important to stay up.

‘That goal lifted so much weight off our shoulders.

‘There was a huge amount of pressure at that time, but everything worked out in the end like we dreamed.

‘I wouldn’t say Harry would have been sacked if we’d lost that match, it’s not that he did a bad job, it’s just that everything didn’t go for us up until that point.

‘That day 11 years ago was special, no doubt about that, I was privileged and happy to be part of that game. Those supporters were going crazy at that goal and knew in their hearts we were going to stay up.’

Following that victory, Redknapp’s men embarked on a run that reaped 20 points from a possible 27 to keep Pompey safe with a game to spare.

Having previously lost four consecutive matches, the Blues tasted defeat only once in their next nine fixtures.

Goals from Benjani Mwaruwari and Matt Taylor clinched a 2-1 victory at Wigan on April 29, 2006, to complete a remarkable fight back.

Dejan Stefanovic missed that Manchester City match through injury, but returned to feature in six of those remarkable matches.

He was also skipper on that memorable day at the DW Stadium.

Now living in Belgrade and dabbling in property, he fondly remembers that Pompey period.

He said: ‘Pedro’s was a great goal, a big goal and a big win.

‘That was one of the best Great Escapes in Premier League history, it has to be, it was unbelievable.

‘Harry was under pressure, every game is pressure in the Premier League. We knew when Harry came back he needed to bring in a couple of good players to turn things around – but nobody could wait.

‘Every manager is under fire, but I don’t think he would have been sacked if we hadn’t got the right result, that is my feeling.

‘After all, we had more games, even if we had lost to Manchester City it was still not over.

‘Who knows what was going to happen, I didn’t know, but I don’t think he was going to be sacked.

‘When you get that first win the confidence is much better and we carried on. That’s pressure, that’s the football player’s life, we had a big responsibilty – and we did it.

‘Staying up in the Premier League was one of my biggest challenges in my football career, it was tough.

‘But it was an achievement to remember in my life.’

After departing Pompey in August 2008 for Glasgow Rangers, Mendes saw out the remainder of his football career with home-town club Guimaraes.

Since retiring in May 2012, he has worked as an agent for MNM Sports Management.

He has declined several approaches from The News to be interviewed.

As for Mandaric, he left Fratton Park five months following the accomplishment of the Great Escape and is currently owner and president of Slovenian club Olimpija Ljubljana.

Milan added: ‘At Wigan, there was a terrace at the front of the boardroom and I was watching from there, looking very, very worried.

‘Dave Whelan put his hand over my arm and said “Milan, you don’t have to worry, you’ll stay up”.

‘We were losing 1-0 and I replied: “how are we going to stay up, we need to win the game”.

‘After the match, I took him into our dressing room and said: “this is Wigan’s owner, he told me something I hardly believed – that we would win the game”.

‘The players, management and backroom staff gave him a big clap. Those are special moments in football.

‘I still look out for Pompey’s results, every weekend. I had three clubs during my time in England, but that’s the one I love more than anything else.

‘I miss English football but, most of all, miss my Pompey people.’