A year ago, when Harry Redknapp returned to Portsmouth, the faint traces of a giant graffito could still be seen on the wooden hoardings that surround the building site just outside Fratton Park. "Shame on you, Harold Redknapp!" it had screamed in bold red letters, registering the local disgust at their manager's defection to Southampton. His return was greeted with, at best, ambivalence: had he seen the error of his ways, or was he simply a Judas squared? How different things are now.
"Even the Sunday before I came back I spoke to Jamie [his son] on the phone, and he said it would cause a million problems with his mum and put pressure on me," Redknapp said. "I rang up [the chairman] Milan [Mandaric] to tell him that, but he talked me round. Then after the first training session I understood what I'd done. Our captain, Dejan Stefanovic, said to me I had no chance. He said I'd need eight new players."
Redknapp did indeed bring in eight new players, three of them on loan, and that was enough to keep Pompey up. Nine more this summer and, improbably, they approach Christmas in a Champions' League spot. A record of 58 points from 40 League games would be impressive enough; but it is all the more so when it is borne in mind that 10 of the first 14 matches were lost. Not, of course, that that will stop Redknapp looking for further reinforcements come January, particularly after Benjani Mwaruwari hobbled off with a hamstring injury. With Andy Cole and Lomana LuaLua already out, and Svetoslav Todorov injured and on loan at Wigan, Kanu is now his only recognised centre-forward.
Not surprisingly, Redknapp was in chirpy mood as he celebrated his first anniversary with a comfortable win, singing the praises of Kanu, and recommending Glen Johnson and Matthew Taylor for England honours. Then, through praise for David James, there came an assault on Velimir Zajec, the Croatian director of football whose appointment did so much to destabilise Redknapp's first spell at the club. "I know I'll get letters about this and people will disagree with me," Redknapp said with heavy irony. "But I think James might even be better than [Konstantinos] Chalkias. That was some deal Zajec got there. Champion goalkeeper? Champion of the kebab shop, maybe."
Redknapp has even able to joke about Mwaruwari's injury. "He did a hamstring," he said, "and he's down there screaming with Matty [Taylor] stretching his leg because he thinks he's got cramp, making it worse." The Zimbabwean's pace and movement caused problems, but the game was won by two volleys, the first extraordinary, the second exquisite. Taylor was 45 yards from goal as the ball fell for him and Tim Howard, no more than seven yards off his line, was stranded as his volley arced just under the bar. Kanu's was less spectacular, but the precision of his finish from Gary O'Neil's cross was no less admirable.
Amid the banter Redknapp was keen to add a dose of realism and stress that the resources of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham mean that a side of Portsmouth's stature can look no higher than sixth, but on a day when players as unheralded as Taylor are smacking them in from the centre-circle, realism did not seem that relevant.
Goals: Taylor (14) 1-0; Kanu (26) 2-0.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Primus, Campbell, Pamarot; O'Neil, Fernandes, Davis (Hughes, 90), Taylor; Mwaruwari (Douala, 62), Kanu (Kranjcar, 81). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Thompson.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Yobo, Stubbs, Weir (McFadden, 46), Lescott; Van der Meyde (Vaughan, 80), Davies, Carsley, Valente; Johnson, Beattie (Anichebe, 46). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Hughes.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).
Booked: Portsmouth Johnson, Davis; Everton Beattie, Van der Meyde, Johnson, Stubbs.
Man of the match: Kanu.
Attendance: 19,528.Reuse content