In eight days’ time, Portsmouth will face Chelsea. It will be Paul Hart versus Guus Hiddink, the caretaker versus the interim manager, the battle of the temps. Both were appointed in their respective roles at roughly the same time, little under a fortnight ago.
But while the Dutchman concentrates on the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup, Hart, five points clear of the relegation zone, has to focus on staying in the league and in a job. Come May – perhaps come what may – Hiddink will return to his regular job, coaching the Russia national team. As for Hart (right), his future has no such certainty.
Having guided Pompey to their first league win in over two months, against Manchester City last week, and salvaged a draw here in injury time at the Britannia Stadium, Hart knows he has bought himself a certain amount of credit if he is to win the job full-time. Meanwhile, Sven Goran Eriksson, presently the Mexico national coach, lurks, with Pompey’s owner Alexander Gaydamak contemplating hiring the Swede.
Hart is no novice, although these games are his first in charge at Premier League level. He has managed Nottingham Forest, Chesterfield and most recently Barnsley, almost 300 games in total.
Yet he refuses to make a blatant play for the permanent job at Fratton Park. Asked about the idea, he said: “I haven’t really got to that point yet, we’re working game to game. We’ve planned up to the Chelsea game. It’s a great club and I’ve been there two years now and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s pretty good at the moment.”
Hart is making himself heard loud and clear to his players, who are still getting over the mixed messages sent out during Tony Adams’ ill-fated reign.
After as dire a 75 minutes as you will see all season, the game sprang to life with Niko Kranjcar’s goal. That was answered by a penalty for non-existent handball against Glen Johnson, when the ball struck his shoulder. James Beattie, who joined last month from Sheffield United, converted the penalty and then scored his fourth goal in five games with a header. A win would have taken Stoke level on points with their opponents but Hermann Hreidarsson’s shot deflected off Ryan Shawcross’s shin for the equaliser.
Stoke’s manager Tony Pulis was full of regret at the waste of two points in their relegation fight. They will need the returning Rory Delap and Matt Etherington next weekend against Aston Villa to make sure they do not slip into the bottom three.
Goals: Kranjcar (75) 0-1; Beattie pen (76) 1-1; Beattie (80) 2-1; Hreidarsson (90) 2-2.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson, Shawcross, Ab Faye, Higginbotham; Lawrence (Tonge, 66), Am Faye, Diao, Pugh; Beattie, Sidibé (Cresswell, 84). Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Whelan, Kitson, Camara, Sonko.
Portsmouth (4-2-3-1): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Basinas (Mullins, 72), Davis; Pennant, Kranjcar (Kanu, 89), Nugent (Belhadj, 89); Crouch. Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Kaboul, Pamarot, Utaka.
Booked: Stoke: Lawrence; Portsmouth: Hreidarsson.
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).
Man of the Match: Beattie.