The build-up centred on Harry Redknapp, but the match revolved around another unpopular returnee to Fratton Park. Jermain Defoe, who followed Redknapp to White Hart Lane rather too eagerly for Portsmouth fans to stomach in January, scored what proved to be the winning goal, but was then dismissed for violent conduct.
Defoe saw red on the hour for a "stamp" on Aaron Mokoena shortly after Kevin-Prince Boateng had halved a Tottenham lead established by Ledley King and Defoe in the first half. It was more of a "tread"; Mokoena felt so little pain he grabbed his knee in fake agony instead of his calf where contact was made, but it was still a sending-off offence.
Michael Brown was also dismissed, in injury-time, as Portsmouth attempted with increasingly frantic desperation to level. There was no shortage of effort from the Premier League's bottom club, but a lack of intelligence once they had a man advantage. "You make your own luck, but if performances remain like that and we remain resolute, things will turn," said Paul Hart, Portsmouth's manager. Redknapp agreed, adding, "I'm not just saying that."
He had no reason not to be magnanimous having been given a relatively mild reception. "I didn't know what to expect because of what I had been reading," he said, "but the fans were fantastic. It proved it was all hyped out of nothing." There was enough verbal abuse to suggest that was not entirely the case but some supporters applauded and shook hands with the two-time Pompey manager who happily signed autographs. Redknapp did allow himself a wink at the photographers, but studiously did not celebrate Spurs' goals. He remained ensconced in the dug-out leaving Defoe, more obviously in the firing line since he was on the pitch, to bear the brunt of the flak.
The England striker nearly punished his abusers in the ninth minute when he drifted onto Tom Huddlestone's pass, but struck the near post. If that was an escape for Portsmouth it was nothing to the reprieve Aruna Dindane granted the visitors two minutes later. Tommy Smith turned Vedran Corluka and sprinted away to deliver the perfect cross behind Spurs' backline. Dindane somehow turned the ball over from three yards.
Though Boateng, trying too hard to prove to Spurs fans he was not as useless as he appeared at White Hart Lane, shot on sight, Heurelho Gomes was most exercised by another ex-Spur, Younes Kaboul, whose fierce free-kick took a wicked deflection off Smith but was brilliantly parried by the Brazilian.
The value of this save was evident five minutes later when King rose unchallenged to head Niko Kranjcar's corner past a poorly positioned David James in Portsmouth's goal. A minute before the break it was 2-0. Jermaine Jenas played a one-two with Huddlestone before supplying a cross from the right. Defoe got in front of Steve Finnan to turn it home. If his celebrations were more raucous than the studied calm of Redknapp they provoked little ire from a home support which now seemed resigned to their team's fate.
The team, however, refused to roll over. After Gomes denied Smith, and Dindane missed another sitter from Smith's cut-back, Boateng hit the target, lashing in at the far post.
Then came Defoe's flash of madness. Redknapp said: "I told him 15 times before the game, don't react." Redknapp felt Spurs were "hanging on" thereafter but, aside from Hassan Yebda's smartly-saved volley they failed to test Gomes even though Portsmouth's performance was better than the result suggested.
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the match: Gomes
Match rating: 7/10