Fabio Capello chose to attend this game before announcing his latest England squad. Maybe a post-match meal of ossobucco with his Italian compatriot Gianfranco Zola seemed like a nice idea. It would certainly have been more pleasurable than sitting through this encounter. Capello was here ostensibly to catch up on the Portsmouth strikers Jermain Defoe (pictured) and Peter Crouch but there was little here on show to guide his choice before the friendly in Berlin on Wednesday against Germany.
Although Zola, the West Ham manager, did not get the win he craved after five defeats and a draw in six games, he would have extracted rather more than Capello from this otherwise unedifying match. A first clean sheet in 25 games for starters, even though he picked three strikers. Work that one out.
With Zola understandably fearing that his back four would not be able to withstand the threat of Crouch and Defoe, the onus was on at least one of Carlton Cole, Craig Bellamy and Freddie Sears up front. However, the omens were not good there. The last time a West Ham striker scored was in the defeat at Bolton in early October, which started the dreadful run of the Hammers.
Tony Adams has not been in charge of Ports-mouth as long as Zola – less than three weeks in fact – but after losing in the unluckiest fashion at home to Wigan in his first game officially in charge, Pompey went to Sunderland last week and won in the last minute. Something like that here would have done Adams nicely and would have been even sweeter for the three former West Ham players on show: David James, Glen Johnson and Defoe, for whom the only boos were reserved.
Zola's plans were well-intentioned and bringing back Cole after injury should have helped but he seemed uncertain of his role in a three-man attack, while Bellamy worked his way down the left and Sears operated in a slightly more withdrawn role on the right. It didn't work, so Zola replaced Sears with the more direct and experienced wing play of Matthew Etherington at half-time, although it was after the interval when the visitors could have scored twice in as many minutes.
By then Adams had long made his first change, thanks to Lassana Diarra's self-inflicted injury. The French international launched himself into a badly-timed tackle on Scott Parker, came off worse and hobbled off. It meant a reshuffle in midfield but more importantly deprived the game of its most creative and subtle player.
That did not stop the visitors carving open two chances just after the break. The first, after 47 minutes, when Defoe skipped past James Collins but saw his powerful shot well saved by Rob Green. The England goalkeeper then got a hand on Defoe's lob two minutes later. After being responsible for one Everton goal last week, it was a good response in front of Capello. Six minutes from time, he denied Defoe again.
The move to two strikers gave the hosts more of a focus and after 54 minutes they were unlucky not to take the lead. A foul two yards outside the area saw Bellamy curl his free-kick on to James's crossbar. Jack Collison then volleyed the loose ball but James collected it well under pressure.Reuse content