Brittle Newcastle bend to Pompey's heart of Stone

Newcastle United 1 - Portsmouth 1
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The Independent Football

Portsmouth might not have a manager but they have plenty of leadership on the pitch and it was that quality that guided them to a point at the expense of a rather rudderless Newcastle.

Despite going a goal behind in the third minute, and withstanding a brutal battering in a frantic finale, Portsmouth stood strong throughout. Arjan De Zeeuw controlled his five-man back line with authority, Patrik Berger commanded the midfield, and Steve Stone, on the turf of his birth, acted as both goalscorer and enforcer.

"It was spirited, resilient," said the Pompey coach, Joe Jordan. "They applied themselves well even after getting off to a horrendous start. You saw today a Portsmouth team who weren't prepared to give an inch."

It was the sort of performance Newcastle were lacking. They were missing both Alan Shearer and Patrick Kluivert up front and their midfield, in the absence of Nicky Butt, was populated with slight, speedy players who flitted around the margins of the game without ever grabbing it by the throat.

"I'm frustrated and disappointed" said their manager, Graeme Souness. "We are a near miss at the moment. A lot of our stuff is good and a lot of our stuff is crap. If we can iron out the bad, we will be a good team.

"We did have some of our big hitters missing and the crowd was nervous and we became nervous the longer the game went on."

As this is pantomime time, Lomana LuaLua was cast as villain, returning to the ground he called home for three-and-a-half years, but where his unpredictability prevented him making more than 21 starts. With the visitors tunefully setting his name to the "Zambezi" theme and the home support roundly booing him, LuaLua was involved in the early goal. His trick of allowing the ball to run through his legs in the centre circle baffled Lee Bowyer who bumped into him. LuaLua appealed to the referee in vain. Steven Taylor, Newcastle's 18-year-old full-back, rushed on to the unattended ball, dashed it into Pompey's area and thrust it to Bowyer who thrashed it into the net.

It was a start that fragile Newcastle, with just one win in seven, required. In the 16th minute, Craig Bellamy ran into Portsmouth's penalty area and rolled the ball to Kieron Dyer. But the pass was slightly behind the speedy midfielder and his shot spooned over the bar.

And so, as Newcastle habitually make a crisis out of a position of comfort, Stone equalised on the half-hour from a corner. Bowyer cleared Dejan Stefanovic's header from the post, Gary O'Neil returned the ball to Stone whose weak shot deflected cruelly off Jermaine Jenas's chest and dribbled past Shay Given and over the line.

It took Newcastle 10 minutes of the second half to mount another attack and when it petered out Souness replaced James Milner with Laurent Robert. The Frenchman's first touch was a blistering shot which drew a superb save from Jamie Ashdown, but his presence did not solve Newcastle's fundamental problems. They huffed and puffed while Pompey had full-blown heroes everywhere.