Berger finds range to plunge Tottenham into the mire

Portsmouth 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0
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The Independent Football

In American Football each side has what is known as a special team for specialised kicking duties. Portsmouth in effect relied on their own such special team here at Fratton Park yesterday as Patrik Berger scored twice from free-kicks to give the south-coast side their first win since early November. The goalkeeper he beat, American Kasey Keller, will not have appreciated the sporting parallel.

That last Pompey victory was the 6-1 slaughter of Leeds and, although they never threatened to equal that score, it was a win that was just as well deserved. Spurs slumped to their fourth consecutive defeat and in dropping closer to the relegation zone were leapfrogged by Pompey in the process.

Berger had threatened to score just after the interval when he sent a low free-kick just wide. However, that was just a sighter, as the former Liverpool player found his range and Keller's net seven minutes after the interval. Yakubu Ayegbeni earned another free-kick and Berger's left foot did the rest from 30 yards as his shot skidded low past Keller's right hand, although he was slow to react.

If that was the grandstand showpiece of the afternoon, the Czech's relish was obvious when he was given another easier opportunity closer in. From 22 yards out three Pompey players pretended to debate who should take it but Berger then stepped up and smashed his shot through the wall and Keller's hands.

Portsmouth should have opened the scoring much earlier but a combination of profligacy in front of goal and some steadfast defending denied them. With only four minutes gone Teddy Sheringham's mishit shot ran to Yakubu but as the goal opened up the Nigerian somehow hooked his shot over from all of six yards.

Sheringham had the incentive of playing his first game against Tottenham since leaving them on a free transfer in the summer but he did not have his most effective game. And Tim Sherwood, another ex-Spur, endured mixed fortunes. Although he would have savoured the victory he was carried off 20 from time with a suspected broken leg.

Spurs came into this game without Darren Anderton, who was injured during the 2-1 defeat by Manchester United last Sunday, as well as missing long-term injury victims Christian Ziege, Simon Davies and Jamie Redknapp. Spurs also had to return the attacking full-back Paul Konchesky to Charlton after a loan spell. That meant Anderton missed out on a return to his old stamping ground but it also led to a first start of the season for the young midfielder John Jackson, who has been on loan with Coventry. He seemed cowed by the occasion, trying his luck from 25 yards. That effort came during a period of sustained pressure from the North London club, who had failed to beat Pompey in the League in the 1987-88 season when Portsmouth were relegated.

The relegation zone now looms large for Spurs and their caretaker manager, David Pleat, who has seen his side lose all four games since he was confirmed in charge until the end of the season. They are one place outside the bottom three but could have averted that if either Robbie Keane or Freddie Kanouté had taken their chances in the first half.

Pleat recognised that Spurs are in trouble. He said: "We are aware of our position but it is very early in the season. The two free-kicks were brilliantly struck but came at a time when every decision seemed to go to Portsmouth.''

Goals: Berger (52) 1-0; (68) 2-0.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Wapenaar 6; Primus 5, De Zeeuw 6, Stefanovic 5, Zivkovic 5; Berger 8, Smertin 6 (Taylor, 90) Sherwood 6 (Hughes, 78) Stone 6; Sheringham 5, Ayegbeni 5 (Roberts, 84). Substitutes not used: Srnicek (gk), Schemmel.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Keller 4; Taricco 4, Richards 4, Gardner 4, Carr 4; Jackson 4, Poyet 4 (Postiga 4, 62), King 5, Dalmat 5 (Ricketts 4, 68); Keane 4, Kanouté 4 (Zamora, 86). Substitutes not used: Burch (gk), Doherty.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol) 6.

Bookings: Portsmouth: Sherwood; Tottenham: Taricco.

Man of the match: Berger.

Attendance: 20,078.