Crouch heads off Pompey's relegation worries

Portsmouth 2 Everton 1
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The Independent Football

This was only a second home win of 2009 for Portsmouth, and only a second defeat of the year for Everton. Yet, if you had not seen either of these teams before yesterday, you would have thought those statistics had been credited to the wrong sides, so lumpen and half-paced were Everton, and so frisky were Portsmouth.

It can only be a relief for David Moyes that it is still four weeks until Everton's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United. If it were any sooner, you would fear for the Everton manager and his men, given the way they lost the lead and failed to respond to Peter Crouch's goals.

But there was no hint of such trouble after four minutes. Everton have been pulling goalscoring rabbits out of hats all season long. With Tim Cahill injured, the inconsistent Louis Saha was paired with the on-loan Jo and Everton seemed to have done it again when Leighton Baines scored his first goal of his two seasons at Everton.

From a free-kick 20 yards out, Portsmouth's Hermann Hreidarsson was defending a post, then not. When Baines struck, his shot went in off the post Hreidarsson had abandoned.

The visitors' problem was that they did not try to reinforce their advantage. In the south coast sunshine, Saha seemed to be thinking of the south of France and Jo could have briefly imagined himself on a beach back in Brazil. Not that Everton seemed in any danger until Portsmouth equalised in fortuitous circumstances.

Halfway through the first half, Glen Johnson, playing on the right of midfield, shanked a shot that touched no Everton player but the referee gave a corner. Everton cleared the set-piece only to Niko Kranjcar, who chipped to Johnson. He headed it across to Crouch, who had the easiest task to jump and head past Tim Howard.

Allied to their problems in attack, and without midfielder Mikel Arteta for the rest of the season, Everton's reserves of creativity are running dry. That was rammed home when Crouch headed in the winner from a Sean Davis corner 15 minutes from the end. Moyes was honest in his appraisal. "We allowed Portsmouth the initiative," he said. "We were always lacking a bit of spirit and punch."

Pompey's League health is still fragile, although this win went a long way to help. If they had not conceded so many goals in the last 10 minutes of games this season, they would be 10 points better off and safe. Here, they held on with ease, as Everton failed to get a shot on target in the second half. "We deserve credit for stopping Everton," said the manager, Paul Hart. "Crouch worked his pants off." And Everton lost their shirt.

Attendance: 20,388

Referee: Philip Watson

Man of the match: Crouch

Match rating: 5/10