An ode to one of the greatest to do it for Portsmouth - 20 years on from ex-Everton, Middlesbrough, Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers wrecking machine’s bow in England

The first glimpse could hardly have arrived in more uncelebrated and forgettable circumstances 20 years ago this week.
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A 33-minute cameo at the Withdean Stadium, a setting regularly voted the worst in English football, in a lifeless 1-1 draw as bottom held top.

Harry Redknapp’s Division One title-winning heroes were at the end of a run of one win in nine, which has long since been forgotten amid the glory which was to follow.

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And the man who was going to do so much to put any doubt about becoming champions to bed, was giving little sign of what was to come in a low-key Pompey debut.

Exactly two weeks previously The News had got wind of a deal being lined up with Israeli outfit Maccabi Haifa, for a striker who’d been making a mark in the Champions League.

Harry Redknapp confirmed it all in a phone call on the outskirts of Manchester, in the wake of the 4-1 FA Cup defeat to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

In fact, it was Fergie who gave a sealing endorsement, when asked for a reference on the man who’d ran United ragged in a 3-0 European win for his side a couple of months earlier.

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‘You’ve got the chance to sign Yakubu Ayegbeni ‘Arry? Sign him, sign him at all costs.’

Yakubu.Yakubu.
Yakubu.

A few weeks later, the Fratton Faithful could see what the fuss was all about, with a home debut still firmly scorched in the memory.

It took four minutes for Yakubu to show the searing pace and power which were the hallmarks of a Pompey striking career which makes him, in this observer’s view, the club's high watermark in terms of quality.

Grimsby’s back line were burned off and a maiden Blues goal was dispatched, one which created a unique response from the Fratton faithful.

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After the initial cheers subsided, an excited low-level hum followed from the majority of the 19,428 present. It was the sound of supporters turning to those next to them and saying ‘what on earth have we got here?’.

The answer, of course, was a one-man wrecking machine capable of taking apart any defence in the country.

Two goals followed next in a 6-2 demolition of John Gregory’s Derby, with defenders like Ian Evatt and Warren Barton left in the Yak’s wake: Pompey had a player on their hands.

A couple of finishes in the 5-0 Paul Merson masterclass at Millwall ensued, on the way to seven efforts from 14 games and a march to the Premier League.

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If there was any doubt over Redknapp’s trailblazers winning the Division One title, reflection underlines it was removed the day he signed Yakubu.

The fact that his initial loan deal was made permanent for a reported £400,000, has to make the Nigerian’s signing one of the best in Pompey’s history.

His ability was tested at the highest level, with the challenge passed with flying colours with 19 goals returned in the 2003–04 campaign.

The flow of finishes was a relative trickle at first, with eight goals bagged by January.

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But then came the late-season torrent, sparked by the winner against our friends from along the M27 which delivered a first home south coast derby victory for 41 years.

Yakubu’s 11 goals in 10 games was the key contributor to the five wins and three draws which secured his team’s presence in the Premier League.

It culminated in a four-goal final-day salvo against the Middlesbrough side he was to later join, a move which saw Milan Mandaric furiously row with agent Barry Silkman over the £7.5m deal.

But not before 17 goals in the 2004-05 season, including a hat-trick against Fulham, which underlined the man from Benin City's standing as one of the best striker's in the game.

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In the subjective business of ranking the best modern-era strikers to wear royal blue, we all know the names in the discussion.

We marvelled at Paul Walsh’s wizardry and saluted Guy Whittingham’s phenomenal predatory instincts. We lauded Svetoslav Todorov’s balletic poaching, acknowledged Jermain Defoe’s quality and idolised Mick Quinn’s supreme work in the art of goalscoring.

But, in terms of the very best to do it for Pompey, no one can quite match the Yak.