When you are down in the relegation zone you take a win any which way you can, and that was exactly how Portsmouth signed off to 2005. In what has been a year to forget for the South Coast club, Gary O'Neil's strike, shrouded in some controversy with a question mark of handball, ensured Pompey would enter the new year with a slightly happier outlook, although Everton's late winner against Sunderland would have dampened their celebrations a touch.
Harry Redknapp's return to Portsmouth has not been an unparalleled success so far, but in a week when he complained about having too many non-English speakers in his squad, a legacy of his predecessor Alain Perrin, he was quick to praise his English match-winner. "He and Richard Hughes are just the type of lads you need. This was a big win, a massive win," he said with more than a touch of relief.
The all-important strike, which meant Pompey have now won two and drawn one of their home games since Redknapp resumed control, came with two minutes remaining in the first half. O'Neil had dragged one shot wide earlier when he had done the difficult part of beating two defenders and wrong-footing the goalkeeper, but he was more accurate with his next chance. Dario Silva's cross was knocked into his path by Zat Knight and the former Under-21 international found the net from six yards. Fulham were incensed, claiming that he had controlled the ball with a hand.
Yet this win, which took Pompey further away from Birmingham City in the relegation zone but saw them remain three points from safety, was not achieved without its difficult moments. Redknapp found himself with a problem when his first-choice goalkeeper, Jamie Ashdown, was injured in the warm-up. It was a surprise more players didn't harm themselves; the pitch resembled more the aftermath of several rugby teams' exertions than a surface that had hosted only two Pompey games this month. It meant Ashdown was replaced by the former Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld, who was barely troubled by an anaemic Fulham strikeforce.
Redknapp's counterpart, Chris Coleman, has also had several injuries to contend with, and the Welshman barely had to wait half an hour more than Redknapp for his first injury, with Heidar Helguson limping off. The Icelandic international had just seen a shot saved by Westerveld before a couple of challenges finished his year's work early, and with his exit ended the visitors' hopes of a point.
Fulham created the game's first opportunity. With six minutes gone a corner fell to Tomasz Radzinski after a couple of ricochets, but the Fulham striker scooped his shot over from six yards. Soon after the break there would have been no doubt over the legitimacy of Matthew Taylor's effort if he had managed to stretch to Laurent Robert's cross from the right. Instead the midfielder just failed to make contact five yards out.
Warner, in for the injured Mark Crossley, was doing his best to keep Fulham in contention, as six minutes later he got down well to Lomano LuaLua's powerful shot, but Pompey's domination, despite the scoreline, was almost total.