Whether he cost seven, eight or nine million, depending on the source of the transfer information, Jermain Defoe was joyously welcomed by Portsmouth as well worth the money as a coollytaken equaliser halted Chelsea's winning run at nine and applied a brake on their title ambitions in a rousing contest.
Defoe could have had a couple more, but victory for either side would have been unjust, since David James, reprising his brilliant form of a week ago against Plymouth in the Cup, denied Chelsea time and again as a rousing first half was capped for thrills by the second.
As Portsmouth's manager, Harry Redknapp, pointed out, "It could have gone either way – a good game for neutrals."
There were comforting words for Chelsea from Redknapp. "The championship is nowhere near over," he said, before turning to his Chelsea counterpart, Avram Grant, seated alongside him with the comment, "Full credit to this man, he has been fantastic for them when you think how many of his players are injured or away."
One player away for Ports-mouth was the striker Benjani Mwaruwari, whose transfer to Manchester City fell through on transfer-deadline day. "He is the big loser in all this. He is sitting up there [in Manchester] in a hotel and he doesn't deserve that. I hope it will get resolved in the next couple of days," offered a sympathetic Redknapp.
While giving credit to Defoe for his goal, Redknapp reserved his full praise for the brilliant midfield work of Lassana Diarra. "That little kid turned in a performance you would have to go a long way to see bettered in any league in the world. Absolutely superb." And so he was.
In a midfield containing the world-renowned likes of Michael Ballack and Claude Makelele, Diarra shone like a Portsmouth harbour light, forever prompting, setting up attacks at one end and closing them down at the other. It was the sort of performance which covered up weaknesses such as the slowness of Sol Campbell and the errors of Glen Johnson.
Defoe's goal did more than lift Portsmouth's fans. It shattered a dismal run of nine Premier League games lost to Chelsea in which one goal had been scored and 19 conceded. It was perhaps too much to hope Pompey would pull off their first win against the London side in any League for 60 years, but they certainly gave it a go. Though Petr Cech was in urgent action earlier than James, falling to his left to save from Diarra, it was the Ports-mouth goalkeeper who was busier after the first half-hour. When Florent Malouda flicked on a corner Ballack rose to send in a fierce header that Niko Kranjcar headed off the line.
Then Ballack put in an outstanding, finely timed tackle in his own penalty area to halt Milan Baros, while Noë Pamarot deserved to do better than hit the bar with glancing header from a corner. Back to the other end swung this fascinating match, for James to rush out and block Nicolas Anelka in time added on in the first half.
Defoe's first chance came at the very start of the second half, sent through by Kranjcar. He cut inside Alex smartly enough but fatally delayed his shot andwas closed down, though the rebound fell to Baros, who saw Cech save with his feet.
Anelka made up for his first-half miss in the 55th minute, and a fine goal it was. Malouda made ground on the left and crossed to the far post, where Joe Cole turned it back for Anelka to volley in.
Portsmouth needed only nine minutes to pull level with a Route One goal which clearly upset the Chelsea bench. James's mighty clearance was turned on by the head of Baros and Defoe strode through to tuck the goal away.Reuse content