Southampton 2 Pompey 2

121221_SAINTS_PFC_7/4/12''Chris Maguire goal. Southampton FC V Portsmouth FC at Southampton.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (121221-886)
121221_SAINTS_PFC_7/4/12''Chris Maguire goal. Southampton FC V Portsmouth FC at Southampton.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (121221-886)
Derry City winger Ronan Curtis  Picture: Lorcan Doherty /

Winger on Jackett’s radar as he outlines Pompey recruitment plans

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The last Pompey manager to win at St Mary’s once proclaimed the club’s spirit was unbreakable.

Avram Grant was not present on Saturday but that courage he spoke so glowingly of definitely was.

Many Blues fans feared an embarrassment ahead of the Southampton clash.

Never has a modern-day south coast derby been approached with so much apathy and dread.

Michael Appleton’s relegation-threatened side were heading to the long-time Championship leaders.

The consensus was the outcome was going to be ugly.

Expectations were low, optimism was rock bottom, reality decreed this was going to be painful.

Pompey fans were bracing themselves for the worst – even Appleton spoke of Southampton’s justified tag of favourites.

What happened next, though, will go down in club folklore.

For what nobody reckoned on was that Pompey fighting spirit.

What’s more, it came from the players themselves.

Twice Appleton’s troops fell behind to their fierce rivals and twice they spectacularly stormed back.

Only a week earlier, a second goal conceded against Burnley destroyed them on the way to a 5-1 Fratton Park hammering.

On Saturday there was no such surrender as 12 footballers established themselves as heroes.

Whatever the remainder of this season brings – a campaign which may well end in relegation to League One – the St Mary’s occasion will remain special.

A delicious highlight in a gloomy, storm-cloud-filled campaign.

The Spurs clash of the 2011-12 season, if you like.

Southampton fans may point out their rivals merely picked up a draw.

They were certainly making that observation on Twitter afterwards.

What they fail to comprehend, however, is that to Pompey fans it represented a magnificent triumph.

Against all the odds and in the most dramatic of finales, they had secured a prized 2-2 draw.

The outpouring at the final whistle was of pure and raw emotion – unbridled passion stood hand-in-hand with more than 3,000 away supporters.

It remains to be seen whether David Norris’ stunning goal is the fabled Mendes moment they have been hunting.

Regardless, those present at St Mary’s were fortunate to be part of something very special.

And this supposed all-conquering Southampton side – a team which remains destined for the Premier League – has twice failed to beat the Blues this season.

Of course, it was perhaps fitting the dramatic leveller should arrive deep into injury-time.

For it was time added on purely because of the pitch-storming reaction of Southampton fans to Billy Sharp’s second goal.

When the unmarked striker steered the ball home from close range in the 89th minute it appeared Pompey’s fate had been settled.

The raising of the linesman’s flag before he was instructed to bring it down by referee Neil Swarbrick merely added to the drama.

That prompted more than a dozen Southampton fans to raid the pitch, one of them swinging the corner flag in gladiator-style above his head.

It was a reaction which forced the game’s restart to be delayed.

Sure enough, in the stoppage-time it prompted, Norris crashed home his leveller.

Santa Claus was not responsible for the stunning ending this time around. The bearded fellow whose entrance allowed Alan Biley to score twice in that famous Oxford United clash in 1984.

No. This time it was Southampton fans themselves – a fact which will live long and painfully their memories.

In total, 98 minutes were played out at St Mary’s – the vast majority of which was instigated by their pitch entrance.

And what a goal to seal that 2-2 draw it was, too.

Ricardo Rocha pumped a long pass into the box, with both Dave Kitson and Karim Rekik launching an aerial challenge.

The ball then looped up invitingly and Norris struck a 25-yard left-foot volley which gave keeper Kelvin Davis no chance.

A moment of genius from Pompey’s leading goalscorer and one of the most likable footballers you could ever wish to meet.

For Norris, this season was never meant to happen.

He was certainly sold a different version when he arrived in the summer.

Yet that wonderful moment has established him forever in the proud history of Portsmouth Football Club.

Cue delirium among Pompey fans across the globe – and those who made it all possible on the pitch.

Norris jumped into the crowd, knocking over stewards and policemen in the process.

Kelvin Etuhu, who earlier had been substituted, hurtled from the dugout to join in with celebrations, earning him a yellow card.

Local lads and Blues fans Sam Magri and Adam Webster embraced on the touchline.

And Appleton – always the picture of restraint in public – exploded as he lost his rigidly-imposed self control.

Moments later, the final whistle sounded and the celebrations continued.

Barry Harris stood in front of the away fans conducting, kitman Kev McCormack proudly thumbed the Pompey badge on his tracksuit top.

Two long-serving members of staff and popular characters who have been through it all with the club.

Jason Pearce, once surplus to requirements and released but now installed as the braveheart captain, pumped his fists.

Joel Ward, the Emsworth lad who grabbed the equaliser in the Fratton Park encounter earlier this season, hugged every player who stepped his way.

And Chris Maguire, the on-loan striker who has lit up Pompey, applauded the away support.

Improbably, that Norris moment surpassed the Scot’s earlier stunning leveller.

In the 36th minute, Etuhu slipped the ball back to him and he rifled in a ferocious angled shot from outside the penalty area.

It was a magnificent strike which drew the Blues level the first time.

At that stage they had fallen behind to Sharp’s opportunist goal nine minutes earlier.

The visitors failed to clear a corner and he swooped to lash the ball home from inside the box.

Pompey fans could have been forgiven for thinking that would open the floodgates, particularly after the Burnley result.

But the players refused to bow, led outstandingly by Jamie Ashdown in goal.

The keeper produced a number of saves, including two world-class efforts to deny Jose Fonte and Adam Lallana in the second half.

Another hero – on a day full of them – to be crowned by Pompey.

Grant once uttered: ‘You can break many things but you can’t break our spirit’.

His word came after an FA Cup victory over Birmingham in March 2010.

Today, Pompey remain battered, bruised – but still proudly unbroken.