West Ham restored their reputation as the road warriors of the Championship with their eighth away win of the season yesterday. They remain behind Southampton, the leaders, on goal difference, but stumbles by Middlesbrough and Cardiff widened their advantage over their closest pursuers.
After failing to win in their previous three games on their travels, Sam Allardyce's team inflicted a first home defeat on Portsmouth in eight matches, but failed to press home a man advantage after David Norris, Portsmouth's joint top-scorer, was shown a straight red card in the 57th minute.
Allardyce praised his team's "solid defending" but admitted that a goalscorer is his main target during the transfer window. "Chances are being created, but the finishing has not been clinical enough," he said. "It would only have taken one slip or one piece of brilliance from them and it could have been 1-1.
"But we took control from the start against a side with a fantastic home record, and we look a very good side defensively when we score the first goal."
Portsmouth were unhappy with Kevin Friend, the referee, for dismissing Norris and awarding a penalty from which Mark Noble scored the only goal of the game. "Not [a penalty] from where I was standing," the Portsmouth manager, Michael Appleton, said. Of the sending off, he added: "David left the ground but it wasn't two-footed and it wasn't from behind. The biggest disappointment was that I've never seen a red card pulled out so quickly in my life. They had some experienced players on the field and I think they had an influence on some central decisions."
The goal came after 24 minutes. From Noble's free-kick, Kevin Nolan cleverly backheeled the ball to Winston Reid, who was dragged over by Tal Ben Haim. Noble converted the penalty although Stephen Henderson, the goalkeeper, got a hand to it.
Portsmouth rallied and Robert Green saved in quick succession from Liam Lawrence and Jason Pearce, but their chances were damaged when Norris was sent off for a late challenge on Reid. But West Ham were unable to capitalise and Greg Halford, almost chesting the ball past his own keeper, looked keener to score for the visitors than any of their forwards.
They could have paid when Benjani headed the ball back for Marko Futacs to drive over, or if Friend had been friendlier to the home side when the ball appeared to hit Joey O'Brien's arm in a late mêlée.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Henderson; Ben Haim, Mokoena (Huseklepp, 34), Pearce, Halford (Webster, 75); Lawrence, Mullins (Benjani, 83), Norris, Ward; Kitson, Futacs.
West Ham (4-1-4-1) Green; O'Brien, Reid, Tomkins, McCartney; Bouba Diop; Faubert (Lansbury, 84), Noble, Nolan, Collison; Cole.
Referee Kevin Friend.
Man of the match Nolan (West Ham).
Match rating 6/10.