A wretched match, decided by the dubious award of a penalty to Portsmouth, left Sunderland nursing their 10th straight defeat away from home, equalling one of their sad club records. Perhaps things will get better for them next time out, since they are at Derby, but this was a contest which seemed doomed to be goalless until the referee, Phil Dowd, decided midway through the second half that Niko Kranjcar had been brought down by Phil Bardsley as he cut into the area from the left.
The Croatian went to ground rather readily, after first riding a half-hearted challenge from Andy Reid, and Bardsley's bewilderment was understandable. Perhaps Mr Dowd, like everyone else, wanted to see a goal, which Jermain Defoe provided with a lashing shot, and as the ball rebounded from the netting the little striker walloped it home again. It was a sign of his relief that the deadlock had been broken at last, and also, perhaps, that a penalty had been converted after earlier misses this season by Kanu, Kranjcar and Benjani.
Roy Keane, Sunderland's manager, unleashed a tongue-lashing for his team by criticising "a bad piece of defending" that cost the penalty. "One mistake and you are punished in this league," he said. "We never ever looked like scoring. [David] James must have had the easiest game of his career. I don't think Portsmouth needed a goalkeeper today.
"One or two of our boys came with their autograph books, they were overwhelmed by some of the opposing players. If they are overwhelmed by Portsmouth what happens when they play the real big boys? It's a sad state of affairs. We have to give our fans something to shout about."
Although things woke up a little in the second half, a dire opening 45 minutes had probably convinced that large and loyal following in red and white striped shirts that this would be a rarity on their long travelling weekends: the collection of a point. It would have been only the third on the road for Sunderland this season, and although Keane offered a rare smile when he said that he "would have accepted a point today", even that straw was snatched from them.
On the balance of their second-half improvement, especially when Kanu came on which allowed the time and space in midfield for the Nigerian and one or two others to look before they punted, Portsmouth deserved the points, but their goal shyness at home remains a mystery.
Indeed, at one moment in the second half Sol Campbell, frustrated by the inability of the folk in front of him to achieve anything, lumbered upfield and, to a huge cheer, won a corner before running out of ideas. That gesture, and the arrival of Kanu immediately afterwards, perked up Pompey and suddenly Craig Gordon was earning his keep, mainly against the eager Defoe.
At the other end James hardly broke sweat after accepting the pre-match award from Redknapp of a salver to mark his 500th Premier League game, shaking off a virus in order to keep up his ever-present record in league games this season.
Redknapp pronounced himself "delighted" with the result. "It was a great three points. I expected a tough game. It was very difficult to find space until the big fella [Kanu] came on. He was superb. What must he have been like when he was 21?"
Diplomatically, Redknapp claimed not to have seen a replay of the penalty, but had comforting words for Sunderland. "I am sure they will stay up," he said. Let's hope Keane believes that, too.Reuse content