Football: Fratton spark drives Pompey

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Portsmouth. . . . . . . . . 2

Wolverhampton Wanderers. . .0

IF SUPPORT alone could win promotion, Pompey would have been up by Christmas.

Yesterday, knowing that a victory would put them top of the table, if only for 24 hours, they ran out under a barrage of ticker-tape and balloons to a reception from their faithful that bordered on the hysterical.

There was a flip-side to the passionate support, however, and for 62 minutes it seemed that the pressure on the players to score was more an oppressive burden than a liberating spur. In the end they got their victory and until this afternoon at least they can sit proudly on top of the First Division. But with West Ham also winning as well, the tussle for the automatic promotion places looks set to go the distance.

Given the nervous tension that grips Fratton Park at the moment the club might do well to sign up a team of cardiovascular treatment units for their remaining games against Sunderland and Grimsby.

An early chance to defuse the tension fell to Bjorn Kristensen after just five minutes. Ray Daniel saw his own shot blocked then laid the ball off to Kristensen who rifled a shot against the post from the edge of the box. From the long clearance Andy Mutch raced clear and from 25 yards out his shot brushed the crossbar to give the anxious home side a reminder of the thin line on which their promotion hopes balance. Indeed Mutch could have scored 10 minutes later when his low drive was well saved by Alan Knight.

Though Wolves finished the first half looking the more assured side, Portsmouth had produced a 20-minute period of sustained pressure in which they were unlucky not to take the lead. Against a Wolves defence that began to look a few bricks shy of the full load necessary to contain a deluge of chances, it seemed only a matter of time before a Guy Whittingham boot would appear from nowhere to set things right.

As it was, the man they call 'Corporal Punishment' was playing as if a law had been passed against him and the one goal he needed to take his season's league tally to a club record of 41 never materialised.

With Whittingham strangely off colour, Pompey's best hopes seemed to lie with the irrepressible Paul Walsh. It was his nagging perseverance that eventually ended the deadlock. Breaking from midfield, he seemed set on going it alone before his perfectly timed pass released Daniel, whose fierce low shot from the left of the box gave Mike Stowell, the Wolves goalkeeper, no chance.

Two minutes from time Walsh was rewarded with a goal of his own to seal Pompey's 11th victory in 12 games when he powered a header against the underside of the bar from George Lawrence's cross.

Portsmouth: A Knight; A Awford, G Butters, A McLaughlin, K Symons, R Daniel, W Neill (G Lawrence, 78 min), M Chamberlain, P Walsh, G Whittingham, B Kristensen. Sub not used: W Aspinall. Manager: J Smith.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: M Stowell; D Simkin, M Venus, M Burke, D Mountfield, L Madden (T Steele, 82 min), P Edwards (D Roberts, 68 min), P Cook, A Thompson, A Mutch, R Dennison. Manager: G Turner.

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).

Goals: Daniel (1-0, 62 min); Walsh (2-0, 88 min).