Football: Portsmouth flex their muscle

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Portsmouth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Wolverhampton Wanderers. . . . . . . . . .0

IF PORTSMOUTH did not appreciate their true strength before, they must do now after a week when they took on and beat the might of the FA of Wales (or in this case the might- not), and then achieved what many thought was the impossible in pushing Newcastle off the top of the First Division.

The succession lasted for only a few hours and even then Newcastle retained the look of champions because of games in hand. Moreover, their ability to overcome substantial debts to finance big signings means they, more than Pompey, are likely to adhere to the Blackburn formula of how to succeed the season after promotion.

It is a case of 'spend or suffer' as both Middlesbrough and Ipswich, the other 1992 graduates, have discovered, and a lack of resources is the one negative overshadowing Portsmouth. For the moment, though, nothing should detract from the pleasure and anticipation with which their followers celebrated at the end. There was relief as well, because promotion is so close 'you can smell it', according to Jim Smith, the Pompey manager.

For 62 minutes and longer, as Ray Daniel's striking effort with the outside of his foot promised not to be enough to defeat a Wolves team faithful to the First Division's purist principles, the predominant feeling at Fratton Park was one of unease and frustration.

There was agitation on the touchline and agitation in the stands, where a supporter voiced the impatience of many when he likened Guy Whittingham to a caber-thrower as one more chance went begging. Two seats away a voice of reason muttered: 'Short memories, eh?' and they are, because without the great plunderer's 45 goals the 'Chimes' would be nowhere near as resonant as they are today.

The game proved Pompey are not just about one man, or even one Guy, because the introduction of Butters as the centre-pin of a three-man defensive unit has made them more resilient (only two goals conceded in 11 games) and frees Daniel and Warren Neill to push on to good effect.

Kit Symons showed why Smith was so keen to overturn the Welsh FA's late reversal of an earlier agreement that their four First Division representatives be allowed to turn out on Saturday. Bjorn Kristensen looks a bargain at only pounds 120,000 from Newcastle and Paul Walsh foraged his socks off, gaining his due reward four minutes from time.

'It would be nice to be champions but the main thing is that we go up automatically and avoid the play- offs,' Smith said. 'At first I thought 81 points would be enough. . . Last week I changed it to 84 and now I've upped it again to 89. It's unbelievable especially when Ipswich won the title last year with 84 and Middlesbrough went up with 80.'

Goals: Daniel (62) 1-0; Walsh (86) 2-0.

Portsmouth: Knight; Awford, Butters, McLoughlin, Symons, Daniel, Neill (Lawrence, 80), Chamberlain, Walsh, Whittingham, Kristensen. Substitute not used: Aspinall.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: Stowell; Simkin, Venus, Burke, Mountfield, Madden (Steele, 83), Edwards (Roberts, 70), Cook, Thompson, Mutch, Dennison.

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).