Seven days after sinking Manchester United, Portsmouth capsized almost without trace at Villa Park yesterday, a first-half salvo of three goals in a brisk spell of attacking play ensuring that David O'Leary could celebrate his 50th Premiership match as Aston Villa manager with a welcome, and comfortable, victory.
Goals from Peter Whittingham, his first in the Premier League, Juan Pablo Angel and Nolberto Solano rewarded some sublime approach work, but Villa took their foot off the gas after the interval when Harry Redknapp's team performed a damage limitation exercise.
"At 3-0 it was all over," admitted Redknapp. "They were too good. I don't know why it happened, after last week's win, but I did not kid myself then and I'm not kidding myself now. Survival is another good season. If we can stay in this league, it's success. I'm not looking up the table, I'm always looking down it." He conceded that his team were "poor all over the show, gave the ball away and had to tighten up to avoid getting beaten by six or seven".
O'Leary, facing charges of making illegal approaches for Southampton's James Beattie, spoke briefly on that subject as confidently as his players had performed on the field. Stressing that he was not worried, he added that his solicitors were also studying a new long-term contract offer from Villa. Understandably, he was happy with his players, too. "We had a game plan, we worked hard, the movement was good and we kept a high line, too. We needed some goals, but we stopped playing in the second half."
Part of the reason for that, of course, was that Redknapp and his staff finally sorted out the basic failings that undid Pompey in the first 45 minutes: sloppy marking, no one detailed to stop Lee Hendrie, a lack of supporting play and movement, and poor passing. Hendrie, in the hole behind Carlton Cole and Angel, had so much space that it was a surprise he failed to extend his own recent run of spectacular goals.
Amdy Faye, apparently given the task of marking Hendrie, was not Portsmouth's only culprit, in terms of lacking a sense of defensive responsibility. At the back, Linvoy Primus patrolled fresh air (Villa eschewed the left flank for the right), Arjan de Zeeuw was anonymous, Dejan Stefanovic was hopelessly exposed and out of form, and David Unsworth was run ragged by Solano. Since Lomano LuaLua has no inclination to defend and debutant Valery Mezague was overawed, Nigel Quashie was left chasing shadows.
Cutting holes through this paper defence, Angel and Whittingham had both seen shots saved before the latter opened the scoring after 18 minutes when, following a low cross by Cole, three defenders followed Angel to the near post, where he missed his kick. Whittingham was left unmarked and simply tapped in from six yards. Seven minutes later, the hapless Stefanovic failed to clear, Angel collected and, as three defenders trailed, turned and drove beyond Shaka Hislop.
Villa toyed with their opponents for a while before killing them off when Solano struck after 40 minutes. Again, Stefanovic's weak clearance set up the chance, after Cole had outmuscled Unsworth, and the Peruvian half-volleyed a clever shot inside the far post. Pompey were sunk by their own ineptitude.Reuse content