Portsmouth 2 Middlesbrough 1: Defoe delivers punchlines from Crouch's feed

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The Independent Football

If, in the midst of England's euphoric and historic win in Croatia on Wednesday, there was a sombre note, it was the sight of Jermain Defoe. Having trudged off at half-time in the World Cup qualifier against Andorra, four days earlier, without troubling the scorers, and with England then going on to win twice without him, he was an unused sub in the Maksimir Stadium.

But Defoe is a different man in a club environment. The former West Ham and Tottenham striker scored both Portsmouth's goals here at Fratton Park, and the way he combined with Peter Crouch produced evidence that Fabio Capello does have even more options in attack, should he choose to recall Crouch. As a back-up to Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott, he could do worse than choose this pair. They dovetailed to winning effect, with Crouch supplying the touches for Defoe to run into the penalty area. Defoe actually wasted chances for a hat-trick but he demonstrated all his skill as a centre-forward with his pace and reading of Crouch's game. His second goal was also a sublime execution from 12 yards.

"He's a finisher, he's the little guy who gets the goals," said Harry Redknapp, who also singled out Lassana Diarra, his French midfielder, and Nadir Belhadj, his Algerian full-back for special praise. "Doesn't speak a word of English," said Redknapp of Belhadj, who is on loan from Lens. "Probably a good thing," he added.

Yet it took Portsmouth going a goal down after 24 minutes and a tactical reworking by Redknapp - including bringing on Belhadj at left-back - for Defoe and Crouch to come to life.

Boro's goal came about from a Portsmouth error. Younes Kaboul and Sol Campbell were in each other's way for a high ball that neither contrived to head away, letting in Mido, who rolled it past the unprotected David James.

Redknapp had opted to go with the same line-up that beat Everton a fortnight ago at Goodison Park, but initially there was nothing else carried over from that 3-0 win.

After the interval and the changes, there was an improvement in Pompey's cohesion, however, that brought its reward. With 59 minutes gone Crouch dropped deep to receive the ball and won it in midfield from Mido, and then took a couple of strides forward. From there he found Defoe on his right who after one considerably shorter stride beat Ross Turnbull by shooting under the goalkeeper's body.

That didn't leave Gareth Southgate very happy. The Boro manager thought Mido had been fouled by Crouch's challenge while Didier Digard was also off the pitch and not allowed to come back on. "We were down to nine men when they scored," Southgate complained, although in a battle of 11 versus 11 in the second half he acknowledged that dropping too deep to try and hold on to a point had cost them the chance of anything at all.

By now Crouch and Defoe were linking up with dangerous regularity, causing plenty of consternation in the Boro defence. With 12 minutes remaining, Crouch fed his strike partner, who backheeled the ball into the path of Davis. His lob went only a yard over the crossbar. A minute later, Defoe should have had his second of the match when he was bearing down on Turnbull and tried to poke the ball through his legs, although he was alert to the cheeky attempt to embarrass him.

The second goal that Defoe's work deserved finally arrived with four minutes left when Glen Johnson lobbed the ball into the area and Defoe volleyed past Turnbull. "We didn't talk about England," said Redknapp about Defoe. Probably best to leave it that way, then.

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