Liverpool will not have found the irony of Patrik Berger's match-winning goalthe least bit amusing. Released from Anfield for nothing in the summer after a career which brought them 35 goals, the Czech international condemned Liverpool to their third successive Premiership defeat, the first occasion this has happened under Gérard Houllier, with the indignity of seeing their newly-promoted opponents go above them in the table.
Steven Gerrard was at his classiest and Harry Kewell at his trickiest, but Liverpool again failed to impress as a League-winning prospect. They were often out-fought, and frequently out-thought, by a Pompey side anxious to end their own three-game losing streak. Houllier said: "We never seemed to have the same kind of liveliness about our play as they did."
The only goal, and the moments which preceded it, encapsulated a match which made up in excitement what it sometimes lacked in genius. With customers still settling in their seats (and Liverpool's fans ignoring loudspeaker requests to sit in theirs), Emile Heskey used his bulk to good effect in holding off Arjan de Zeeuw before striking the base of a post with his shot. As Liverpudlians lamented, Portsmouth broke upfield. Teddy Sheringham took a throw on the left, accepted Nigel Quashie's short return ball and then struck a sumptuous crossfield pass, the first of many fine contributions, into the path of Sébastian Schemmel galloping down the right touchline. The full-back put over a bobbling cross to which Berger managed to apply a decisive touch, taking it wide of Jerzy Dudek and into the far corner of the net.
So the first game between these clubs for 15 years was off to a rousing start and Portsmouth did their best to ensure the momentum hardly slackened. Shaka Hislop played faultlessly to deny Liverpool whenever his defence was breached, which was not often. He was quickly in action after the goal, clutching an awkwardly dropping Kewell free-kick and then blocking El Hadji Diouf's scorcher.
With Portsmouth's Patrick Vieira lookalike, Amdy Faye, imperiously running the midfield and Sheringham everywhere in search of openings, Liverpool had a thin time of it for the first half hour until the Gerrard-Kewell axis found space. But it was a howler of a misplaced pass from Boris Zivkovic, straight into Kewell's path, which caused Portsmouth deepest worry. The Australian coasted past two tackles before being stopped by Dejan Stefanovic, at the cost of an injury which forced the defender's eventual replacement by Hayden Foxe.
Gerrard's in-swinging free-kick from that incident squirmed out of Hislop's grasp and there was an almighty scramble before the ball was cleared but Liverpool could manage nothing better before the interval. Two more good openings fell to them early in the second half. Vladimir Smicer put the first high over the bar before Heskey cut inside Foxe to uncork a testing left-footer which Hislop made look easy.
But Portsmouth's attitude ("Every game here is like a Cup tie," said the manager, Harry Redknapp) ensured Liverpool would never seize the control their reputation warranted. Sheringham never stopped running, earning Redknapp's praise: "The man is 37 years old and he never misses a minute's training." Steve Stone, another "oldie" at 33, was not far behind Sheringham, despite only passing a fitness test on his back two hours before kick-off. "I tried to get him off late on, but he refused," the manager said.
Liverpool probably wished Stone and Sheringham had been removed. It would have made their task easier. As it was, they brought on two youngsters, Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama-Pongolle, in a vain bid to turn things their way. The two nearest shots after that fell to Portsmouth, with Igor Biscan heading Schemmel's free-kick against his own woodwork and then Yakubu smashing a shot against the underside of Dudek's bar. With almost the last kick, Sinama-Pongolle poked his shot wretchedly past the post from close range but, as Redknapp said with justification "I didn't think they hurt us that much."
Portsmouth 1 Liverpool 0
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 20,123Reuse content