Football: Hall finds elusive finishing touch

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The Independent Online
Portsmouth. . . . 2

Middlesbrough. . .0

IT TOOK a long time coming, but the Portsmouth victory last night was always on the cards.

With 15 minutes remaining, Middlesbrough's defence made a nonsense of its previous good work and the substitute, Paul Hall, was allowed to finish off a marvellous pass from Stuart Doling that covered fully half of the pitch. Firing Portsmouth's march up the First Division table, a fabulous 20-yard strike from John Durnin in the dying seconds emphasised their class. Portsmouth are now unbeaten in 16 League and Cup games and some of the irresistible football they produced in the second half showed why.

Poor Middlesbrough. Short of six injured first-team players, they were forced to field three teenagers, two making their debuts. The patched-together outfit defended valiantly. In the first half, Portsmouth had struggled frustratingly, producing nothing from a luxury of possession. Middlesbrough, in return, had rattled a goalpost after only four minutes and later they had a Paul Wilkinson header cleared off the line.

But, in the second half, with Paul Walsh twisting and turning to devilish effect, Portsmouth's goal looked inevitable. The decisive strike came with a quarter of an hour remaining. It followed an excellent pass, but Steve Pears' run off his goal-line and Derek Whyte's poor positioning had Lenny Lawrence, Middlesbrough's manager, fuming. 'In the end we were let down by a goal that would have disgraced a Sunday Teesside league eighth XI,' he said. Lawrence said he could accept the second goal, a fine run and shot by Durnin but the first, he said, was 'pure, utter nonsense'.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Knight; Symons, Gittens, Awford, Dobson; Neill, Doling, Stimson, Chamberlain (Hall, 68); Durnin, Walsh (Pethick, 89). Substitute not used: Horne. (gk).

Middlesbrough (4-1-4-1): Pears; Fleming, Mohan, Whyte, Liburd; Barron; Johnson, Kavanagh, Mustoe, Hignett; Wilkinson. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Norton, Collett (gk).

Referee: P Alcock (Merstham, Surrey).

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