Sacking a manager generally has the desired effect of shaking a team up, with the players whose performances have brought the bad results suddenly stirring themselves. Finding that Chelsea are the next opposition, however, sharply diminishes the chances of improving a poor run, as Portsmouth discovered yesterday evening.
However soon a new man is appointed in succession to Alain Perrin he can hardly look forward to the forthcoming trips to Manchester United and Tottenham, two of the sides in the group at the top of the Premiership who are playing for second place behind Chelsea. Goals by Hernan Crespo and Frank Lampard earned the visitors a comfortable victory here, extending their lead to a daunting 11 points.
Lampard, after misplacing some early passes, became his usual influential self and converted a penalty to commemorate the day he broke David James' Premiership record of 160 consecutive appearances; it is a staggering run for an outfield player. Joe Cole, though less renowned for his consistency, outshone his midfield colleagues here and George Best, for all his allegiance to Portsmouth and their chairman Milan Mandaric, would have admired the brave way Cole continued to go at the home defenders despite some brutal treatment. His tangible reward was to earn the penalty that sealed the points.
The names of Neil Warnock, Ruud Gullit and - intriguingly - Harry Redknapp are believed to be on the short-list compiled by the sack-happy Mandaric. Logically, even the promise of a huge wage increase ought not to be enough to tempt Warnock to leave his home-town club, Sheffield United, now that he finally has them in a position to reach the Premiership - all the more so since Pompey could pass them on the way down unless the right signings are made in January. But when did logic count for anything in the world of football management?
"We've been through tough times before and we need unity from you all," Mandaric wrote in the match programme. The crowd were as good as ever, getting behind their team from the start and encouraging them into a reasonable first 20 minutes before the first goal. Portsmouth had one good moment before that occurred. In the 19th minute, the Uruguayan Dario Silva touched on a long clearance from the goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown and Lomana LuaLua hit a fierce shot that Petr Cech turned expertly over the bar with his left hand.
But eight minutes later Paulo Ferreira moved forward to send in a drive towards the far side of the goal and an unmarked Crespo, showing dazzling reflexes, diverted it into the other side of the net past a startled Ashdown. It was the Argentinian's third goal in as many games, but he would not last as long as half-time. After taking the second of two bangs in the back he persuaded Jose Mourinho to replace him, Carlton Cole coming on for a rare and undistinguished appearance. Earlier Mourinho, understandably upset by three bad fouls on Joe Cole just in front of him, had been sharply spoken to by the referee, Phil Dowd, for making his displeasure known too vigorously.
Soon after half-time Dowd was noting the names of Salif Diao, Carlton Cole and Richard Hughes all for bad tackles, quickly followed by Andy Griffin. The home crowd felt that Joe Cole went down too easily for that last challenge and they were furious when he fell under Dejan Stefanovic's challenge in the penalty area midway through the second half. But television replays confirmed the initial impression that he had turned too quickly for the Serbian international's lunge, and the penalty award was quite correct.
Lampard banged in the spot-kick and only a couple of minutes later Stefanovic dived in on Cole equally rashly right on the edge of the area and was fortunate to escape with a free-kick and no second card. As Chelsea have not conceded a goal in the second half of their last 19 Premiership games, they were entitled to believe the hard work was done and the points were secure. So it proved and Mourinho was able to give a run to Shaun Wright-Phillips and Géremi, the latter almost adding to the lead with a deftly curled free-kick.
"It was not easy," Mourinho said of the win, which counted as generosity in victory.Reuse content