Beleaguered Adams feels strain

Portsmouth 0 Aston Villa 1
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The Independent Football

The stats, Tony Adams said, were all in Portsmouth's favour. More shots, more corners, more possession. OK. But here are a few more facts for him to chew on this morning. Portsmouth have taken two points from 21, have just two wins from 14 Premier League matches and have now lost four home games in a row. They also had Nadir Belhadj sent off for a ridiculously hot-headed reaction, after he should have gone for hacking Craig Gardner down, and suffered defeat through a goal scored by Emile Heskey – who Adams had attempted to sign last week only to lose out to Villa. One more fact – it was the first time the 31-year-old striker had scored on his debut.

Adams said he will fight on, his team deserved more than another defeat and spoke in that familiarly positive fashion of his. But he is also quickly leaving the club's owner Alexandre Gaydamak with a difficult decision to make. Portsmouth, spirited enough, are in a free fall. Does Gaydamak stick with Adams and risk relegation? Or does he sack him, hire another manager and deal with the costs of that at a time when he wants to sell the club?

Maybe it's unfair for Portsmouth's plight to over-shadow Villa's astonishing achievement as through courage, will, desire, organisation and precocious ability they gained the points to, once again, go third. Eleven league games unbeaten and six victories on the trot away from home.

Heskey added a new dimension to Villa while Villa have added a new dimension to the race for a Champions League place. Ahead of Chelsea, maybe briefly, and level with second-placed Liverpool, again maybe briefly, and it is not just Arsenal who need fret. "I think we should go on and win it now," said Villa manager Martin O'Neill. "Why do you always laugh? If we are doing nothing else we are at least putting some pressure on." They certainly are.

O'Neill went on to reason, understandably, that the greater experience of the traditional top four should see them through but given this victory was earned without John Carew and Martin Laursen and with Ashley Young suspended maybe Villa's strength is greater than was first thought.

The England general manager Franco Baldini was at Fratton Park, occupying a front-row seat, to view Heskey's goal. Route one, it was. But effective all the same and it also heavily involved Gabriel Agbonlahor who cleverly nudged Sylvain Distin to head on for his new strike partner to burst onto the ball and drive a crisp shot beyond David James.

The pair had not even trained before, with Heskey able to go through the motions for just 25 minutes on Monday as the papers confirming his move to Villa from Wigan Athletic didn't go through until then. He had a remarkable first-half and should, perhaps, have gained a second goal had Agbonlahor decided to pass, rather than execute a disguised shot, which thudded woefully wide after once more breaching Portsmouth's defences.

The home side had chances. Twice Hayden Mullins, also on his debut, went close. Peter Crouch also had two opportunities. The first struck Curtis Davies, the second, after the ball was returned to him from Pennant, he side-footed over from just a couple of yards out. It was a bad miss. But then Portsmouth are in a bad place right now.

Goals: Heskey 0-1 (21).

Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Campbell (Kaboul 46), Distin, Hreidarsson; Pennant, Mullins, Davis, Belhadj; Kanu (Utaka 74), Crouch. Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Nugent, Pamarot, Mvuemba, Traore.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar, Knight, Davies, L Young; Gardner (Sidwell 65), Petrov, Barry, Milner; Agbonlahor, Heskey (Shorey 83). Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Harewood, Delfouneso, Salifou, Osbourne.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Portsmouth Johnson; Aston Villa Petrov.

Sent off: Portsmouth: Belhadj (71).

Attendance: 19,073.