Heart of Stone gives Pompey new impetus

Portsmouth 1 - Newcastle United 1
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The Independent Football

The facts and figures were stacked against Portsmouth. Going into this encounter, their record of seven defeats in the past eight games hardly stood them in good stead against a Newcastle side aiming for a club-record ninth consecutive victory.

The facts and figures were stacked against Portsmouth. Going into this encounter, their record of seven defeats in the past eight games hardly stood them in good stead against a Newcastle side aiming for a club-record ninth consecutive victory.

But, with his mathematical hat on, it was the Portsmouth coach, Joe Jordan, who liked the figures that counted at the end of an entertaining draw, and pointed towards an improved end to the season as he targets another six points to be entirely safe from relegation.

A defeat yesterday would have meant five successive Premiership losses for Ports-mouth, but after Steve Stone had levelled Kieron Dyer's opener at the end of the first half, Jordan felt the club can steer themselves away from the drop zone.

Jordan said: "Two wins or six draws will see us safe. It was an important point today. We've had a hard fixture list but I was sure we could get a point. We had to make sure that we didn't get sucked in, and through a win or a draw we just had to make sure we got some points. The recovery started today, but this isn't the full answer. It is just part of the equation."

The seas have not been calm on the Solent. A new manager could be in place within a month to steady what had, before this game, become a sinking ship. The squad may be largely the same as the one left behind by Harry Redknapp, but the football has been unrecognisable. That is, until the Geordie-born Stone netted to bring back the Pompey passion.

There were signs of a rethink in the starting line-up as, with 13 goals conceded in six games, the questionable goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias was dropped to the bench, and Lomana LuaLua restored to his attacking role with Yakubu. The latter, though, was unable to work Newcastle's goalkeeper, Shay Given, when put through, and a diving header from the home captain, Arjen De Zeeuw, drifted over.

Newcastle went closer as Laurent Robert's header came down off the crossbar and the resulting clearance from the Portsmouth defender Dejan Stefanovic rebounded off Nicky Butt to within inches of the upright.

The breakthrough came moments before half-time as Matt Taylor lost Lee Bowyer on the right and his cross deflected to Dyer at the far post, who headed home. Pompey felt aggrieved by the free-kick that had led to the goal, but two of their adopted sons had them level within seconds. LuaLua was there once more to upset his former employers as he slipped the ball across the box towards Stone, who slid the ball home.

Jordan had praise for his match-winning pair. He said: "Steve has got to the age where he can lead by example. With his age and experience you get continuity from players like him. Lomana has shown his ex-colleagues that he is alive and kicking, and that he can play a bit."

After the break, Newcastle's chances were restricted. A Dyer attack through the inside-right position split the home defence, but Patrik Berger, not known for his defensive qualities, tracked back to make a vital clearance. Desperate for that record-breaking win, Bowyer tested the young goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown, while Butt sliced a shot wide from 18 yards.

"If we had gone in 1-0 at half-time we would have won it," claimed the Newcastle manager, Graeme Souness. "But I'm not unhappy with the result, because they are fighting for their lives and we were going into the game not 100 per cent. We came again late on, but it was a good sequence for us and we'll just have to try and break the record again next season."

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