Not since Paris killed Achilles himself with a well-directed arrow has an assault on a heel occasioned such fury. Until Joey Barton trod on Pedro Mendes just before half-time, Portsmouth seemed on course for a comfortable victory. They lost their cool, their manager, Harry Redknapp, was sent to the stands and, after conceding an equaliser, Portsmouth ended a run of six games without a win only thanks to Nwankwo Kanu's late winner.
Last time Mendes played Manchester City, he left unconscious and on a stretcher after being clattered by Ben Thatcher. He left on a stretcher again yesterday, but at least this time he was conscious. He had, anyway, got his retaliation in first, by giving Portsmouth a fourth-minute lead. Andreas Isaksson got decent distance on his punch from Matthew Taylor's corner, but the ball fell for the Portuguese midfielder. He sidestepped Ousmane Dabo as he took the ball down and then, evoking memories of his thumping last-minute winner in the same fixture last season, thrashed a drive into the top corner.
Still, it seemed a little harsh on Isaksson, who, after his £2million move from Rennes in the summer, has had a frustrating wait for his first start. It is not as though Mendes is a regular scorer; after that dramatic winner against City last year he had only scored two more before yesterday. The Sweden goalkeeper, though, did show his quality with a string of excellent saves, culminating in a quite brilliant point-blank parry from Lauren after 65 minutes. It was all in vain.
Bernardo Corradi levelled with a well-directed header from Darius Vassell's 62nd-minute cross, before Kanu, relegated to the bench after two months without a League goal, rolled in the winner from Glen Johnson's pass with nine minutes left.
It was Barton's foul, though, that overshadowed the match. He was booked for the incident, but it was impossible to tell how deliberate his stamp was. He denied there was any intent, but Portsmouth were in no doubt about it. There were reports of an altercation in the tunnel as the players left the field at half-time, and a couple of heavy challenges on the midfielder soon after the break smacked of retribution.
Redknapp was dismissed for approaching the referee, Mike Dean, about the decision. "It was a bad challenge," Redknapp said. "He got his studs raked down the back of his Achilles. I asked the referee how he could give the same punishment for that as he gave to Andy Cole for not walking over to him. I probably did swear; I do sometimes. He said if I didn't agree I could watch the second half from the stand. That was it."
Stuart Pearce, the City manager, who is admirably honest about such matters, was reluctant to give an opinion. "I was following the ball," he said. "I'll have to see it again and then give a more balanced judgement." City were not overly delighted by the refereeing, both Djimi Traoré and Taylor seeming to get away with handballs in the box. "We weren't good enough to win the game, but we were good enough to get a point," Pearce went on.
It was Portsmouth, though, who had the last laugh, and as the South Coast side consolidated seventh position, City will glance over their shoulders and be glad of a 10-point cushion to the relegation zone.Reuse content