City's confidence men take lead from Fowler

Manchester City 2 - Portsmouth 0
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The Independent Football

One moment encapsulated how much it would mean to Stuart Pearce to be promoted to a permanent position as the Manchester City manager. City had already established the lead that would win them the game when Portsmouth won a throw-in close to the halfway line, a few feet from the technical area, along the edge of which Pearce continuously prowled.

One moment encapsulated how much it would mean to Stuart Pearce to be promoted to a permanent position as the Manchester City manager. City had already established the lead that would win them the game when Portsmouth won a throw-in close to the halfway line, a few feet from the technical area, along the edge of which Pearce continuously prowled.

As Matthew Taylor lifted the ball behind his head, creeping along the touchline as he did so, Pearce walked alongside him, clearly shouting into the player's left ear. It brought him a reprimand from Neale Barry, the fourth official, a verbal blast from the Portsmouth coach, Joe Jordan, and some bemusement from their manager, Alain Perrin. His knowledge of the English game may not be that thorough but little could prepare him for the "Pyscho" effect. He seemed unsure about whether to be annoyed or amused.

Happily, Pearce willingly said sorry and explained himself in a disarming manner afterwards.

"It was just a bit of gamesmanship, a bit of psychology and I did apologise to Joe and the manager at half-time," Pearce said, with a smile. "It was the sort of thing you can get away with as a player but maybe not as a manager."

Perrin saw the funny side, too, eventually. "Stuart is a very good manager and does not need to do this," he said. "But he is a passionate coach. In time, he will learn to keep his emotions more in check."

Pearce's prospects of being promoted to the City manager's job on a permanent basis grew stronger with his third victory in an unbeaten run of six to keep alive the possibility that his side's late-season resurgence will see them sneak into a Uefa Cup place.

Yesterday's win lifts them above Tottenham and Aston Villa - who meet today - into eighth place, three points behind Middlesbrough, who Pearce's team face at the City of Manchester Stadium on the last day of the season, having in the meantime played Villa away.

"I believe we should go for it," he said. "I could just blandly say we'll take each match as it comes but why not put ourselves under pressure. If we win our last two games and other results go our way we can end up in Europe."

Pearce's seventh game in temporary charge could not have started more encouragingly. As it turned out, the match was won in the first 16 minutes. With confidence soaring after wins over Liverpool and Birmingham in their last two home games, City needed only four minutes to go ahead. The Portsmouth goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown, under pressure from Richard Dunne, could only flap at Robbie Fowler's corner, the ball falling for Sylvain Distin who sent a header looping into the far corner.

Fowler himself scored the second after Richard Hughes, having given away possession to Shaun Wright-Phillips, fouled the England player in trying to win it back. Faced with a free-kick five yards outside their penalty area, Portsmouth assembled a well-populated wall in front of their goal but Fowler still found a way around them all, his perfectly executed strike curling into the top corner, beyond the reach of Ashdown.

Having looked at ease then, City became far less comfortable as the visitors stepped up their efforts to find a way back into the game and a Portsmouth goal would have made them vulnerable. In the event, Perrin's side went close only once, a free-kick from Gary O'Neil bringing an acrobatic save from David James, but results elsewhere mean their Premiership future is assured.

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