Newcastle United 1 Portsmouth 4: Pompey joy at shaking off 58-year itch

Defensive howlers mean Allardyce's men are powerless to contain vibrant visitors
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The Independent Online

This was the best result of Sunderland's season so far and Roy Keane's players were not required to kick a ball. Newcastle United warmed up for next weekend's pivotal Wear-Tyne derby in distinctive fashion, delivering their least assured defensive display for some time and losing the influential midfielder Nicky Butt to a first suspension of the campaign.

If Keane's spirits had been dampened by Arsenal's late equaliser against his former club, Manchester United, at the Emirates Stadium earlier in the day then the joyous realisation that Sunderland's fiercest rivals had slipped to their worst home defeat in the league for three years will surely have lifted the Irishman. North of the Tyne, meanwhile, the locals are gripped by familiar feelings of fear and recrimination heading into a potentially definitive trip to the Stadium of Light.

"To say I'm disappointed is an understatement," said Sam Allardyce, Newcastle's manager, after his players slipped to their first home defeat under his brief tenure. "I'm devastated by the way we played against Portsmouth, completely gutted inside. What I put out on the field is an extension of me. It's what I am."

What Allardyce is not is meek, feeble, disorganised and a shirker of key responsibilities. Yet his Newcastle team displayed all those traits and more at the outset of a remarkable fixture which was won and lost within 11 minutes. By the time the Portsmouth defender, Sol Campbell, had put through his own net in the 16th minute his team was already three goals to the good. For the first time in 58 years, and at the 24th attempt, Pompey had claimed victory at St James's Park. "I can only apologise to our fans for the previous 57 years but I've been doing my best to put the record straight," joked the club's manager, Harry Redknapp. Unlike Allardyce he could afford to smile.

In retrospect this was not, perhaps, the most surprising of results. Portsmouth had won their previous three Premiership fixtures on the road and in the Zimbabwe international forward, Benjani Mwaruwari, boasted the top flight's leading goalscorer. Newcastle, meanwhile, came into this fixture on the back of a woeful performance at Reading and under intense pressure to claim the home win which would cement their place in the top six.

Redknapp, of course, preferred to tell the more romantic tale of the unexpected after his team had eased to victory against a United side which had scored three goals in each of its last three league games on Tyneside. "You don't come here thinking you'll have it your own way," he added. "This is a difficult place to come. But we had a game plan and the players stuck to it to perfection. The first three goals were fantastic and on top of that we had an appeal for a blatant penalty turned down. All in the first 21 minutes."

Allardyce, brought in as the manager to finally rid Newcastle of their infamous defensive deficiencies, had set about his task with gusto but to what end? During the summer a coach supremely confident in his own ability made no fewer than five additions to a traditionally fragile rearguard.

Yet when Allardyce undertakes the onerous task of sifting through the lowlights of this disastrous defeat he will surely wonder why on earth he bothered. Even by the Magpies' questionable defensive standards this was as bad as it gets. So it's back to the drawing board, Big Sam.

If Newcastle's goalkeeper, Steve Harper, standing in for the injured Shay Given, could have done little to prevent Noe Pamarot's thunderous opening goal, the French full back letting fly from 30 yards in the eighth minute, then atrocious defending allowed Portsmouth to extend their lead.

Allardyce has done nothing but praise the Brazilian centre half, Claudio Cacapa, after signing the former Lyon captain on a free transfer during the summer, but it seems that love affair is now well and truly over. The sluggish South American was at fault for Mwaruwari's eighth league goal of the season, the Zimbabwe international muscling his opponent aside before dispatching a delicious left footed drive, and was no more convincing when the Portsmouth midfielder, John Utaka, added the visitors' third.

Campbell's own-goal offered brief hope but by the time the Newcastle full back, Steven Taylor, slice Niko Kranjcar's 70th minute free kick beyond Harper a sedate St James's Park was already emptying fast. For Keane, Saturday's derby cannot come soon enough. Allardyce would rather be going anywhere else.

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