In three days' time, Portsmouth embark on their first-ever European campaign. As winners of last season's FA Cup they are in the first round of the Uefa Cup, where they will host Portuguese club Vitoria SC, from Guimaraes, and this game was excellent preparation.
For a man who was regularly quoted last season on the relative unimportance of tactical systems – he cited beating Reading 7-4 last year with just one striker as a good example of players being more important than tactics – Harry Redknapp had to change his approach here.
The very same 3-5-2 line-up that had beaten Everton 3-0 at Goodison Park before the international break was proving ineffective at Fratton. Thanks to a Mido goal after a defensive mix-up, after which Middlesbrough became progressively less adventurous, the Portsmouth manager switched his back three to a back four at half-time, told his left-sided players to bomb down their flank, and adjusted his midfield to take four men. It worked a treat.
Two substitutions, including the quick and talented left-back Nadir Belhadj, and a reshuffle to play Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin as a pair of centre-backs, made everyone much more comfortable.
Redknapp raved about Belhadj, who he has signed on a season loan from French champions Lyon, and who showed composure and good technical ability. He said: "Belhadj went to Lyon for £4.5m and he struggled to break into the team. We had him watched and had good reports. You could see what type he was, and lots of people said he was a terrific player. He is a bright lad."
He also highlighted the contribution of Lassana Diarra, although as he was possibly jaded by two outings with France, he was less influential than normal.
But the key was the link-up play of Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch. For the equaliser, the latter won the ball and then found his strike partner on the edge of the box who shot under Ross Turnbull's body.
The pair tormented the visitors. Crouch dropped deep when he had to, although Defoe, while dangerous, should have had a hat-trick. In any case, his second was enough, a volley on the turn from Glen Johnson's pass.
Having passed this test, a sterner European examination awaits. As Redknapp said: "Vitoria will be a hard game. They beat Middlesbrough pre-season and have some good Brazilians, so it will be tough."
Goals: Mido (24) 0-1; Defoe (59) 1-1; Defoe (86) 2-1.
Portsmouth (3-5-2): James; Kaboul (Belhadj, h-t), Campbell, Distin; G Johnson, Diop (Utaka, h-t), Davis, Diarra, Traore (Hreidarsson, 84); Crouch, Defoe. Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Nugent, Pamarot, Mvuemba.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Turnbull; Hoyte, Riggott, Huth, Pogatetz; Aliadiere, O'Neil, Digard (Taylor, 70), Downing; Mido (A Johnson, 84), Alves. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Wheater, Porritt, Walker, Craddock.
Booked: Portsmouth G Johnson; Middlesbrough Mido.
Referee: S Attwell (Warwickshire).
Man of the match: Defoe.
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