Portsmouth 1 Wigan Athletic 0: Redknapp and Fratton Park faithful hail Mwaruwari

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Mutter it quietly to yourselves for now, but Portsmouth for a possible European spot come the end of the season? Harry Redknapp's men may have spluttered to victory in this dismal contest against a poor Wigan Athletic side at Fratton Park, but in doing so maintained their rather impressive start to the season.

The game was decided by the Zimbabwean striker Benjani Mwaruwari's winning goal at the start of the second half. Portsmouth have yet to concede a goal this season and, though they have not yet played one of the division's bigger teams, the squad Redknapp has assembled could feasibly secure a high finish. The Portsmouth manager, however, kept any heady thoughts of what his team could achieve to himself.

"We have a group of players that will be a decent team," Redknapp said. "They have all done their job." The winning goal came four minutes into the second half. Sol Campbell's header out of defence found Mwaruwari who outpaced Fitz Hall before beating Chris Kirkland's despairing dive with a fine finish with the outside of his foot.

Redknapp reserved praise for Mwaruwari, the 28-year-old former Auxerre striker who scored just one goal in 16 games for Portsmouth last season after his £4.1m move in January. He now has two to his name this season after a strong display and the promising signs of an understanding developing with strike partner Kanu. "I told him that the crowd love him because he works hard," Redknapp added. "They kept singing his name because of his effort."

For Wigan, their manager Paul Jewell's strike pairing of Henri Camara and Emile Heskey looked ill at ease with each other. On 60 minutes the duo linked up well, but Heskey's lay-off saw his team-mate lash his shot over. The performance of the team was lacklustre.

The Portsmouth goalkeeper, David James, was keeping his own side aware of their slender advantage with some errant goalkeeping. On 82 minutes, the former Manchester City stopper came out to punch a cross, only to flap at it and get caught in a sea of bodies.

With four minutes of time remaining, the substitute Lomana LuaLua struck the post after a fine solo run at the Wigan defence.

Then James atoned for his errors with an agile, one-handed save to deny Luis Antonio Valencia. It preserved both his and his team's record of not having conceded a goal this season.

Jewell remained upbeat: "We have a stronger squad and we are better equipped to go and win games."

Goal: Mwaruwari (49) 1-0.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Primus, Campbell, Stefanovic (Pamarot, 66); O'Neil, Davis, Pedro Mendes (Thompson, 86), Taylor; Mwaruwari, Kanu (LuaLua, 76). Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Koroman.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Boyce, De Zeeuw, Hall, Baines; Valencia, Scharner, Landzaat, Teale (Cotterill, 78); Heskey, Camara (Johansson, 90). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Jackson, Skoko.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Wigan Athletic Hall.

Man of the match: Mwaruwari.

Attendance: 19,508.