Football: Walsh is still in his pomp

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The Independent Online
Peterborough Utd. . . . . .2

Portsmouth. . . . . . . . .2

THE Premiership's professionals had the day off yesterday but no one at London Road would dispute that they had witnessed a player who belonged among the nation's elite. Paul Walsh, just turned 31 but still turning defenders with the ease of old, performed with such panache that Pompey were accelerating towards their first away win in the First Division this season until their defence slipped up.

The Pompey chimes rang louder when Walsh arrived from Tottenham Hotspur for pounds 400,000 last year, his goals and astute support work for Guy Whittingham driving Portsmouth to within a whisker of the top flight, where many feel Jim Smith's positive side belong. Walsh, Fratton Park's 'Player of the Season' at the first attempt, is well on the way to defending his title, which will come with the freedom of the city if Portsmouth shake off their early-season hangover and climb back to the top.

Walsh at work within sight of his target presents the perfect study in time and motion. The former Liverpool striker emulated Nigel Clough, an Anfield successor, by continually dropping deep to prize possession away from Peterborough's industrious midfield and then dart forward towards Ian Bennett's goal.

In the first 10 minutes of a match that veered between the glorious and the awful, Walsh had alerted Peterborough's defenders to the danger within: a jinking run perpetuated by control and pace was quickly followed by a through-ball which Alan McLoughlin could not make best use of.

Peterborough countered with midfielders tracking back and defenders sticking tight, a tactic that briefly subdued Walsh and allowed Lil Fuccillo's busy side to take an 18th-minute lead. Steve Welsh's fine run and cross from the left was met by the head of John McGlashan to ruin the 500th League appearance of Alan Knight in Pompey's goal.

The visitors, as befits a Smith side, reacted admirably and found parity within four minutes with the first of two high-quality strikes. McLoughlin's 25-yard drive was a beauty, whistling from right to left across Bennett.

Knight was beaten again just before half-time by another piece of Pompey brilliance. Walsh, centrally positioned 20 yards out, spotted that Bennett had strayed fractionally from his line and promptly chipped him: a split-second of marvellous skill.

Peterborough do not possess anyone of Walsh's ability but they plugged away and were rewarded with a slightly undeserved equaliser, Tony Adcock exploiting some weak defending to head past Knight from close range.

The draw, Portsmouth's six in seven League games, was a familiar story. 'We are a bit sick at the way we are drawing when we should be killing the game off and winning,' Walsh said. A tall accomplice for him, in the Whittingham or Lee Chapman mould, would probably do the trick.