Charlton's head keeps tails up

Norwich City 2 Portsmouth 2
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The Independent Football

In her programme notes Delia Smith said that it was time to "keep your head when all around you are losing theirs", although Norwich's main shareholder and cheerleader confessed she didn't know who first said that. Delia can be forgiven the lapse. After all, her career history is more Mr Kipling than Rudyard.

But her sentiments are correct. Norwich have been handed the stickiest of starts with fixtures against four of the big five, so it is little wonder they are in the bottom three. But surviving in the Premiership is not about beating Arsenal, it is about picking up the points at home to Portsmouth. In the end they got just one in a hugely entertaining, fiercely committed encounter in which few heads remained cool.

Both teams have struggled to score of late. Four in one game seemed like gluttony but it could have been so many more. The players seemed to realise that here was a match they should win and went for it. Such expectation made for a rash of errors and missed chances.

Norwich's Leon McKenzie should have had a hat-trick and Portsmouth's Diomansy Kamara was equally profligate. The pick of the goals was a wonderfully struck free-kick by the peerless Patrik Berger, andit was Simon Charlton who saved the day for Norwich with his first goal in nine years. "To come back twice shows we have the character," the Norwich manager Nigel Worthington said. "We are not far away." But still far enough. He claimed that "if it had been a boxing match" it would have been stopped in the second half.

That was pushing it. Portsmouth really should have been out of sight by then. Berger's dipping shot from 25 yards struck the top of the net before Kamara's hapless cameo. Portsmouth's record signing lofted over following Aiyegbeni Yakubu's break and dragged a shot wide following Berger's sweet dummy. Finally the Senegalese striker went on a run, only to miscue another low shot.

For Norwich, McKenzie headed wide when picked out by the lively David Bentley before Berger raised alarm by ducking under the midfielder's corner, allowing the ball to strike a post before Portsmouth took the lead. Unfortunately for Norwich, and for England, it resulted from Robert Green's error. The goalkeeper could only push out Nigel Quashie's admittedly fierce shot from distance and Yakubu turned two defenders in one movement before scoring.

Into the second half and Darren Huckerby charged up his turbo to provide another chance for McKenzie which was sliced horribly, before Yakubu was prevented from scoring a second by Marc Edworthy's fine tackle. Norwich did get a break. Huckerby slalomed into the penalty area and was crudely bundled over by Matthew Taylor. His penalty was saved, but the striker knocked in the rebound.

Back came Portsmouth. A free-kick, just under 30 yards out, was touched to Berger and he thrashed the ball into the net. The game was fluctuating wildly now, as Norwich immediately broke and Charlton nodded in Adam Drury's cross after a scrambled corner. There was time for Berger and substitute Lomana LuaLua to come close before Norwich replacement Paul McVeigh shot fractionally askew.

Gary Holt came closest of all when his strike from 25 yards thudded against the crossbar. "It was not a bad point," said Portsmouth's manager Harry Redknapp, who, with just 14 fit players, bemoaned his threadbare defensive resources. "It was important not to get beaten." But for Delia it remains a case of If.