Iain Dowie's first game in charge at Selhurst Park, on Boxing Day 2003, ended in a 1-0 defeat at home to Millwall, leaving the club in 20th place in the old First Division. The Crystal Palace manager may need to inspire a revival comparable with the one which subsequently took the club into the Premiership if his team are to survive in the top flight this season.
Yesterday's home defeat extended Palace's run of Premiership matches without a win to eight and Dowie admitted afterwards that he needs to strengthen his team in the January transfer window. Palace have not scored in 385 minutes of football at Selhurst Park since Aki Riihilahti's equaliser against Arsenal nearly two months ago.
Their predicament is in strict contrast to the excellent form Portsmouth have shown, losing only one of their six Premiership matches since the departure of Harry Redknapp as manager. Velimir Zajec, the director of football, has stepped into the manager's shoes to work alongside Joe Jordan, the coach, and the team are playing with a confidence that belies the turmoil that led to Redknapp's departure.
After yesterday's kick-off was delayed by 40 minutes as the ground staff struggled to clear ice from the plastic pitch cover, Palace got off to a flying start, with Andy Johnson and Danny Butterfield both going close in the first minute. Thereafter, however, chances for the home side were few and far between. Shaka Hislop, who returned to the Portsmouth team because Jamie Ashdown had suffered a groin strain, pushed Ben Watson's shot around a post and kept out a free-kick by Danny Granville, but until Gonzalo Sorondo went close with a late header, they were Palace's only realistic chances.
Despite energetic prompting by the tireless Michael Hughes and their determination to stick to their passing game, Palace's final ball was generally poor. The unsupported Johnson, moreover, all too often had to fight a lone battle in attack.
Portsmouth, who passed the ball with assurance, seemed happy to bide their time. Having missed the best chance of the first half when Valery Mezague blazed over the bar from six yards, they would have taken the lead early in the second period but for two excellent saves by Gabor Kiraly. The Hungarian goalkeeper smothered Steve Stone's shot from six yards and then pushed away Aiyegbeni Yakubu's header from the resulting corner.
Palace have conceded several goals from set-pieces this season and the winner here came from a corner after 69 minutes, Linvoy Primus heading home to score his first Premiership goal. Ricardo Fuller struck a post seven minutes later.
Jordan, delighted with Portsmouth's display, admitted that this was "a massive game" for both sides, particularly as his team now face Chelsea, Norwich and Everton. Dowie said he was "devastated with the result but not down-hearted with the performance". He will need to retain that positive approach if Palace are to survive.
Goal: Primus (69) 0-1.
Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Kiraly; Butterfield, Hall, Sorondo, Granville; Routledge (Freedman, 70), Riihilahti (Andrews, 84), Hughes, Watson (Soares, 63), Kolkka; Johnson. Substitutes not used: Speroni (gk), Popovic.
Portsmouth (4-5-1): Hislop; Griffin, Primus, De Zeeuw, Taylor; Mezague (Fuller, 56), Faye, Stone, Quashie, Berger; Yakubu (Kamara, 56). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Berkovic, Cissé.
Referee: N Barry (Lincolnshire).
Booked: Portsmouth: Fuller, Griffin.
Man of the match: Hughes.
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