Charlton Athletic 0 Portsmouth 1: LuaLua gives Harry's men lift-off

Pompey go top of the table after fifth successive clean sheet as Charlton's woes continue
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The Independent Online

Their ground is, by modern standards, a dump, the manager is stereotyped as a wheeler-dealer and his squad as misfits and cast-offs. Yet Portsmouth, having somehow escaped from relegation last season, are touching new heights this time. A deserved first victory at the Valley since 1993 sent them to the top of the Premiership, with their supporters chanting "We're gonna win the League", and players talking of Europe.

Harry Redknapp would like to put the lid on that sort of thing, although he has to admit that 13 points from five games is more impressive than the 11 points Portsmouth had managed when he returned last December from an all-advised sojourn at Southampton. They have still not conceded a goal, thanks in part to the form of David James and Sol Campbell, two of the more inspired recruits among a typically cosmopolitan crop in the last transfer window.

Linvoy Primus, formerly of Charlton, recently told Redknapp he could not believe he would ever play alongside a figure like Campbell, and he is benefiting from the experience. In midfield, Pedro Mendes, one of the heroes of the great escape last spring, was the outstanding figure, while Redknapp has also been rewarded for taking a gamble on the unpredictable Nwankwo Kanu after "people had told me his legs had gone and he wouldn't do anything for me".

Early days or not, Charlton's concerns are already at the other end of the table after a fourth defeat in five games. Iain Dowie has adopted a more adventurous approach than his predecessor, the revered Alan Curbishley, although he made a tactical error for the first 45 minutes here. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was surprisingly used at the tip of a midfield diamond in a system that never looked like working, and had to be changed at half-time.

With five defenders unavailable, it was a good day to be playing Charlton, who started encouragingly but were then outplayed until the interval. Right at the start, Charlton's Marcus Bent looped a header on to the top of the crossbar, and Darren Bent clipped the outside of a post from the rebound. Soon afterwards, James pushed Hasselbaink's chip for a corner, from which Talal El Karkouri headed wide. But from then on until Dowie changed tack, Portsmouth looked much the more confident and composed side.

Kanu had a shot pushed away by the Charlton goalkeeper Scott Carson and then contrived to miss with a header at the far post from Glen Johnson's inviting cross. Benjani Mwaruwari also headed wide and even Campbell, never a heavy scorer, loped forward to come close following a corner.

At the interval, Dowie finally put round pegs in round holes, moving Amady Faye back into midfield and Hasselbaink into attack, though even that involved using a substitute who had a broken toe in Jonathan Fortune. For a while, Charlton flourished, Dennis Rommedahl flashing a volley past a post. The most telling substitution proved to be Redknapp's, however. In the 64th minute, he replaced Mwaruwari with Lomana LuaLua, who within 10 minutes had scored the decisive goal.

Sean Davis latched on to El Karkouri's header out of defence and fed LuaLua, whose low shot defeated Carson's weak attempt at pushing it around a post. The striker, injured in acrobatically celebrating his goal against Arsenal last season, limited himself to one forward flip. So Portsmouth had scored during their worst spell of the game, when for the first time they were being forced to play on the break.

Charlton were only huffing and puffing, however, Darren Bent looking badly out of touch and Hasselbaink growing more and more vexed with his colleagues as time went on.

"It was a disappointing display," Dowie was forced to admit. "We didn't have enough creativity or ball retention, and looked edgy. We have got to get some results and we will get on with it with belief and hard work."

Of the eight Charlton players who are missing, not one is likely to return for Tuesday's Carling Cup tie against Carlisle, when the manager must hope for a victory to lift morale and the home supporters.

Redknapp will take his team to Mansfield the same night in fine fettle while insisting: "People mustn't get carried away. It's just a good start on the back of what we achieved last season, but I'd be a liar if I said I saw it coming."

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