It is 28 years since City, normally a club where triumph is usually an invitation to become acquainted with calamity, went 14 games without defeat and their tally now under Stuart Pearce is 12. Much more of this and we are going to start berating them for being tediously predictable.
Being City, they had to make it difficult yesterday, but it was a tribute to the obduracy that Pearce has instilled in the team that they came back after John Viafara had put Portsmouth ahead. A familiar route to embarrassment opened up, only this time City, normally willing travellers, refused to take it, Claudio Reyna and Andrew Cole giving them their third win in eight days.
"Portsmouth made it difficult for us and their game plan was working nicely," Pearce said. "But I have to give tribute to my players. The way they scrapped away was fantastic. They deserved to turn things round."
As Pearce intimated, it was a success City merited, if only because they refused to be frustrated by Portsmouth's tactics. The visitors put 10 men behind the ball, got an unlikely break with their goal and looked likely to steal away with the points. Instead, they left the City of Manchester Stadium without reward and they are in the bottom three. It is going to be a hard winter on the south coast.
"It was a good result after an hour," Portsmouth's manager, Alain Perrin, said, clutching at straws because, at the moment, his players might as well have "beatable" tattooed on their foreheads. One point from four games is desperate form and a glance at their line-up yesterday did little to inspire confidence. To include one player surplus to requirements at undistinguished Newcastle United might suggest St James' Park could have made a mistake; to have four reeks of second rate.
There were suggestions of weakness on paper and they became megaphone loud within seconds on the pitch. A free-kick on the right from Kiki Musampa was behind his strikers, but as the Pompey defence relaxed, Andrew Cole made the most of a bad pass and flicked over his head. Anders Westerveld managed to parry that piece of improvisation and then drop on the ball as it bounced menacing two yards from the line.
Lomana LuaLua was fractions away from Lauren Robert's cross after 23 minutes, but that was out of character from the action around it and City went in at half-time rueing a cross that struck the bar from Musampa and a shot from Darius Vassell that hit the side-netting.
The were regretting their inability to show a bit of wit in front of the packed Pompey ramparts even more after 53 minutes when Portsmouth, completely out of the blue, took the lead. Viafara is a hard-running beanpole of a midfield player in the Patrick Vieira mode - in other words, he is hard not to notice in a penalty area - yet no one rose with the Colombian when he jumped to meet Robert's free-kick from the left and he headed easily past James at the near post. Joey Barton had been marking Viafara, tugging at his shirt, but did not even attempt to get off the ground.
Pompey celebrated, but too soon, because City, with the fear of their first defeat of the season to prod them forward, at last began to show some urgency and scored twice in three minutes.
Barton crossed from the right after 66 minutes and Vassell's attempt at a diving header missed but had the virtue of distracting Westerveld. The Portsmouth goalkeeper came, fumbled the ball like and Australian cricketer trying to take a catch, and, from the rebound, Reyna volleyed in.
The match had been crying out for a touch of quality, however, and it came when Cole showed why he was once one of the most feared strikers in Europe. Trevor Sinclair passed from the right and, with a defender hard on his back and others buzzing round him, the former England striker looked to have no chance of getting in a shot. A supreme first touch, a turn and a flick of his right boot later and the ball was in the corner of the net.
"When you look at Andrew Cole from afar, you are aware of his record," Pearce said, " but when you work with him day in, day out you realise what a clever footballer he is." Cole, a rare smile on his face, made a point of racing to the dug-out after the goal, which surprised his manager, who had played against him in the past. "That's the first time Coley has showed me that kind of warmth and emotion in 20 years," Pearce said.Reuse content