Portsmouth 1 West Bromwich 0: Redknapp has map of the escape tunnel

'Harry Houdini' weaves his Fratton Park magic
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The Independent Football

And so we enjoyed our first glimpse of 'Arry: The Sequel, a lengthy feature which should be issued with the following caution: content is likely to include scenes of an emotional nature which are liable to cause euphoria, anxiety and, quite possibly, distress. This is what we must anticipate after yesterday's first home win of the season for Portsmouth as the self-styled Harry Houdini-Adair set to work on the club's escape from the flames of relegation.

The afternoon had begun with a parachute display. We suspected that Redknapp could have been among them - perhaps the one who narrowly avoided plunging into the crowd - as a cunning plan to avoid confronting the predicted "silent majority" who, it was feared, would protest against his return.

If anyone was opposed to his second coming, they did so with a protest so mute it was not evident. But neither was there a standing ovation. "People can't just turn round from calling me filthy names to... [he paused, unable to decide on his current regard among Pompey folk] but deep down I think they're pleased to see me back," he said.

In the event, the central character in this sorry tale of misjudgements and betrayal made a decidedly restrained reappearance, quietly taking his seat alongside his chairman, Milan Mandaric, in the directors' box. By the conclusion of a desperate first half, Pompey followers must have been questioning the wisdom of their chairman inveigling Redknapp back to the place he calls home from that alien land 20 miles down the coast.

Yet, the men in blue responded to their new manager in defiant manner after the interval with the victory which halted a run of five successive defeats. Redknapp was not in a mood to celebrate. Instead he departed swiftly to visit his sick father, Harry Snr in hospital.

Portsmouth's 56th-minute winner was scored appropriately by substitute Svetoslav Todorov whom Redknapp first enticed to West Ham when he was manager there and subsequently brought to Portsmouth. It was his first goal for the club since he claimed a hat-trick against Bradford in 2003.

His manager was not exactly exuding praise for the Bulgarian. "I told Toddy at half-time, 'You've got to work harder'," he said. "People don't care if you've been out two years and it's your first appearance of the season."

Redknapp added: "It's been a tough old day. It's a small squad and I had to juggle it about. When we lost Vincent Pericard after only a minute, I thought we were in trouble. He was our only player with physical presence."

Redknapp's pre-match claim that "we're looking for one of the all-time great escapes" appeared to be slightly overstating the case.

The first period was dominated by West Bromwich Albion, who appeared destined to make their superior class tell and ensure this was a depressing homecoming for the manager who scarcely needs more woe to bring more emphasis to those already lugubrious features. Yet, Pompey survived because, as the West Brom manager, Bryan Robson, opined: "Jonathan Greening and Diomansy Kamara never really threatened their full-backs. This was our worst performance of the season in terms of creating a chance."

Portsmouth's maverick, Laurent Robert, had inspired some confidence with his dead-ball kicking and some intuitive passing, and the Frenchman was responsible for Portsmouth's best opportunity of the first half, curling a free-kick narrowly wide from an angle. Redknapp descended to the dug-out after the interval, having told his players that "we needed to get the ball forward quicker and turn them around" and the home side duly responded with more urgency.

Goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak denied Lomana LuaLua's drive and the follow-up from Todorov. But the Pole had no chance when LuaLua, who had been increasingly menacing, surged down the right and squared the ball to the lurking Todorov. The Bulgarian almost casually turned the ball into the net.

"We've got to believe we can stay up," said Redknapp. "But an awful lot of work needs doing. The quality is not what I left behind." Which begs the question he has never really answered: why on earth did he leave?

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