SUNDERLAND moved to the top of the First Division at Fratton Park yesterday but in doing so merely confirmed that this will be another season in which promotion contenders are likely to be forming a large and disorderly queue by the spring. The general wisdom is that the team from the Stadium of Light are the strongest of the bunch, but Portsmouth led them for more than an hour and would not have been flattered by taking all three points.
As is the way with these things the Pompey manager, Alan Ball, declared himself to be a frustrated man because of the draw since his side had played some good football and did not get what they deserved. On the other hand, Peter Reid, the Sunderland manager, pointed out that his charges had kept on going forward, created late chances and fortune had ultimately favoured the brave.
The clearer scoring opportunities in a likeable encounter definitely belonged to Portsmouth. Their midfield, quietly controlled by Alan McLoughlin, was the more astute and composed and their defence refused to be intimidated.
This sort of authority led to several chances but it was one of those days when neither the veteran Steve Claridge nor John Aloisi, the country's leading scorer, had properly dubbined their shooting boots. Claridge had perhaps the most inviting chance when early in the second half he drew the last defender, duly bided his time and then curved his shot wide.
The goal with which Portsmouth took the lead was delightful. Fitzroy Simpson picked out Sammy Igoe from the left and the busy midfielder produced a lovely lob-cum-chip over the goalkeeper. This did nothing to inhibit the attacking instincts of both sides. Sunderland, having scored seven in their previous league match and 22 in eight games in all, went forward with the confidence which that imparts.
Still, the absence of their leading scorer, Kevin Phillips, might have affected them. Neither of the larger men at the front were particularly slippery, but their willingness to advance paid off with seven minutes left. There looked to be a slight defensive error on the right and Allan Johnston's resultant shot was powerful enough to squeeze through the defence.