Football: Inspired Walsh waltzes on water

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The Independent Online
Charlton Athletic. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Portsmouth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

AN EARLY goal from Warren Neill at a drenched Valley yesterday was enough to destroy Charlton's hopes of regaining top place in the First Division, which they had held on Saturday morning.

In an understandably untidy encounter, the home side were unable to show any of the form which had taken them to the summit of the Football League. Portsmouth, however, prospered thanks to three fiercely competitive and commanding central defenders and to the one player who mastered the saturated pitch and driving rain.

The 31-year-old Paul Walsh, born down the road in Plumstead, started his career at The Valley, and he returned to dominate yesterday's proceedings. Portsmouth had been under heavy pressure until the seventh minute, when Walsh, in his own half, collected a clearance from deep defence. A swift one-two with Alan McLoughlin, and Walsh was away down the left. His low cross eluded Stuart Doling and the defenders, but not Neill at the far post, who had time to pick his spot and beat Mike Salmon with a low shot.

The goal was against the run of play, and Charlton resumed their offensive, with Garry Nelson setting up John Robinson for a shot that came back off a post in the 14th minute. However, the home side never looked like scoring after that moment. The woodwork was not disturbed again and Alan Knight, in the Pompey goal, was not required to make a save of note.

Although Charlton had plenty of possession, they were unable to upset the composure of Guy Butters, Kit Symons and John Gittens, who formed an impenetrable barrier at the heart of the visitors' defence. Robinson, on the right wing, had his moments, but the central strikers were utterly eclipsed.

Pompey were always dangerous on the break, especially in the second half, and when they advanced, Walsh was the master of every eventuality. Only he had the skill to judge the weight of his passes on the sodden pitch, only he had the vision to find time and space amid the hurly-burly.

This result, while damaging to Charlton's prospects, puts Portsmouth firmly in the promotion pack. If they succeed where they so narrowly failed last season and reach the Premiership, they have one player in Walsh who, like Peter Beardsley this term, will bring pleasure to all who watch him.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Salmon; Balmer, McLeary, Chapple, Minto; Robinson, Garland (Robson, 56), Pitcher, C Walsh; Leaburn, Nelson (Newton, 80). Substitute not used: Vaughan (gk).

Portsmouth (3-4-1-2): Knight; Gittens, Symons, Butters; Neill, Kristensen, Doling (Russell, 75), Awford; McLoughlin; Durnin, P Walsh. Substitutes not used: Pethick, Horne (gk).

Referee: R Gifford (Glamorgan).

Sunderland fans demonstrated for more than an hour and a half after the First Division game at Grimsby was abandoned after only six and a half minutes. The referee, Stephen Lodge, who consulted both managers, started the match in a blizzard with large puddles on the pitch, but he said: 'In hindsight, it should not have started.' About 1,500 travelling supporters demanded their money back but were issued with vouchers allowing them to watch the rearranged fixture free.