Portsmouth 2 Manchester City 1: Mendes breathes life into Redknapp's rescue act

Portuguese double puts safety within Pompey's radar
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The Independent Football

The Great Escape is, amazingly, on. And it took two great goals to set it in motion. Whether or not, come the reckoning, Pedro Mendes's 93rd-minute winning strike, the last kick of a nerve-shredded match, will prove to be a raging against the inevitable, or the spark to fire a season, remains to be seen.

But this will be an encounter that lives long in the memory of Portsmouth's supporters who reacted with delirium at the final whistle. "We are staying up," they chanted manically while the response of the manager, Harry Redknapp, was equally unbridled. It was a victory of raw, passionate desire.

"We were seconds away from being dead and buried," he said afterwards, blinking in half disbelief at what he had just seen even if he contended the three points, the first Premiership win for his team this year, were deserved. "It was a must-win to keep us up there with a chance," Redknapp added. "And we have given ourselves that chance."

They needed to take advantage of the draw earlier in the day by the two teams immediately above them. Now the gap to fourth-from-bottom West Bromwich Albion is six points. That's still daunting but not as insurmountable as it seemed before Mendes crashed the ball into the net for the second time.

The effect on Portsmouth's psyche will also be huge. For players such as Mendes and the others signed in January it was the first taste of a League victory. Confidence should course through them now - not least for the way they continued to push on. It's probably why they deserved the points although Manchester City, in the cold light of day, know that they should have held on for parity when Richard Dunne's close-range header, after Micah Richards had powerfully met a corner, cancelled out Mendes's first goal.

City manager Stuart Pearce, who played under Redknapp at West Ham, Portsmouth's next opponents, blamed the loss on a lack of "cutting edge and know-how" in his young team and in the absence of the injured Andy Cole and Sylvain Distin they appeared somewhat naïve. "Both sides wanted three points for contrasting reasons," said Pearce, who yesterday celebrated a year to the day since he was appointed manager. But City are now consistent in their inconsistency with away form having a corrosive effect on their ambitions.

Portsmouth showed plenty of ambition themselves, deploying a diamond in midfield, asking Andres D'Alessandro to provide the edge. It left them vulnerable, but after Gary O'Neil stooped to head over the bar they should have gone ahead when David James's weak punch presented the ball to the disappointing Benjani Mwaruwari. He showed the composure to cushion it and then woefully skied his shot.

Nerves shredded further. Matthew Taylor headed a clearance straight to Joey Barton, who sent a low, skimming shot narrowly wide while, after the break, a header by Georgios Samaras sailed over.

Mendes, who was the victim of a crude, two-footed challenge by Stephen Jordan which went unpunished, had already sent in two long-range efforts before a corner was headed out. The Portuguese took one touch and then volleyed the ball into the corner from 25 yards for his first goal for the club.

Portsmouth continued to attack but were then undone by City's equaliser. Undimmed they came again and appeared to have earned a penalty when Richards handballed. "Blatant," said Redknapp. "Two-handed." Still they won another corner. Again it arrived at Mendes who - from almost the same range - hammered another volley. It was an even sweeter strike for Pompey.