On another day, people would have been raving about the first-time shot with which Nwankwo Kanu set the seal on a sixth home win of the season. As it was, the Nigerian's sweetly controlled finish merited only a footnote. This was a game in which one kick outshone every other like a lighthouse amid a swarm of fireflies, as Everton rode into the volley of death.
For 14 minutes things had meandered gently along, Portsmouth on top without looking especially threatening, and then, from nowhere, came a moment of inexplicable brilliance. Matthew Taylor is a tidy enough player, but he is no Ronaldinho - given he is a converted full-back, it would be hard even to argue he is a Nayim - but when the ball popped out of a challenge between Simon Davies and Kanu and dropped invitingly for him 45 yards from goal, he took a swing.
Even for a player emboldened by two goals against Aston Villa last week it was audacious, but the pureness of the strike was clear from the moment it left his boot. Freakish, yes; lucky no. Tim Howard was not badly positioned, but he could only gaze in wonder as it looped over his head and into the net. "That was some strike," said the Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp, who, on the first anniversary of his return to Fratton Park, was in particularly jolly mood. "He's always smacking balls at goal in training. He can certainly whack it a long way."
Howard was just as helpless 12 minutes later as Kanu peeled unmarked to the back of the box, and swept Gary O'Neil's right-wing cross low into the corner. "A great finish," Redknapp enthused. The extraordinary nature of the goals, though, is no excuse for Everton; this was a game in which they were second best from start to finish. Without Mikel Arteta, Gary Cahill, Leon Osman and Phil Neville because of injury, they were forced to deploy both Nuno Valente and Alan Stubbs in midfield at various times yesterday, and paid the price with a dearth of creativity.
Perhaps as a consequence, Andy Johnson and James Beattie both looked out of sorts. Beattie stabbed ineffectually at a Joleon Lescott nod-down with the score at 1-0, his fluff still drawing a fine save from David James, but once that chance had been spurned Everton never looked like getting back in the game. "In the first half we were rubbish," the Everton manager David Moyes said. "In the second half at least we put our names to it and had a couple of half-chances."
By then, though, the game was long gone. The only negative for Portsmouth was the loss of Benjani to a hamstring injury in the second half in an incident that proved that whatever Taylor's other gifts, he is no physician. The Zimbabwean suffered the strain in the first half and battled on, only to succumb to the problem 17 minutes after the break, a situation that was not helped by Taylor's belief he had cramp. "Benji's lying there screaming," Redknapp said, "and Matty's gone and made it worse."
With Andy Cole and Lomana LuaLua out, that could cause problems over the next few weeks, but for now Portsmouth are simply revelling in the dizzy heights of third. "I don't think anybody thought we'd be there," Redknapp said. "I think we should be all right this year."Reuse content