According to their manager, Harry Redknapp, Portsmouth have been a sleeping giant for more than 50 years "and they'd still be sleeping now if I hadn't come back". He is entitled to a little immodesty, given the way he kept the club in the Premiership and is now taking them to another level after a summer of shopping for players he had in many cases been warned against taking on.
Glen Johnson, who seemed to have lost his way at Chelsea, was outstanding yesterday; Sol Campbell was immaculate alongside him and on the rare occasions West Ham threatened to end their dreadful run without a goal, the much maligned David James kept them out.
Above all, Redknapp believes that if they are good enough, they are young enough. So the footballing artist who now insists on being known as Andrew Cole will celebrate his 35th birthday in fine fettle today after scoring a first goal for his latest club to push them back into the Premiership's top three and consign West Ham to another weekend of misery and introspection. Cole's vintage finish in the 82nd minute ended any prospect of the London side taking an undeserved draw to revive their unusually - if understandably - subdued followers. It is now two points from the last 21, not a single goal in six successive defeats and no victory since the opening day of the season.
For most of the afternoon it was as if signing two Argentinians had never even been dreamed of. Carlos Tevez, a gifted little forward in search of a role, was injured playing for his country against Spain in midweek and will not be available until next weekend. His countryman Javier Mascherano came unscathed through the international but was left on the substitutes' bench until the 87th minute, when the game was lost.
Alan Pardew reverted to last season's look without managing to rediscover the vitality and vim that earned ninth place in the Premiership and an FA Cup final appearance. "The players are not too down, but we need a little break," he said after the match. "You need to close ranks and not panic."
Redknapp sportingly added his encouragement to a fellow manager under pressure at his old club, however bitter he feels about the ruthless manner of his sacking at Upton Park four years ago. There was no love lost, however, on the pitch or in the stands, with police moving into the open end to eject a visiting supporter or two, and Graham Poll flourishing eight yellow cards. Four of them were shown in the first 25 minutes, by which time tensions had been heightened by a Portsmouth goal. Manuel Fernandes, marking his Premiership debut with some deft touches in midfield, fed Johnson for a cross that found Nwankwo Kanu easily losing his marker, Anton Ferdinand, for a header of no great power but sufficient accuracy to carry past Roy Carroll. The goalkeeper protested in vain that an arm was involved.
It was the second incident involving Carroll on which Poll was forced to adjudicate, the first having been more unusual. Early on, he miskicked horribly when taking a goal-kick, sending the ball only a couple of yards, and in something of a panic, played it a second time as a hopeful Portsmouth attacker homed in. Poll correctly ruled that the kick, having not cleared the penalty area, should be retaken.
There was a more serious escape for the visitors when Fernandes set up Pedro Mendes for one of his thunderous 25-yard efforts. This one took a deflection off Hayden Mullins, earning no more than an unproductive corner. Then Kanu twice miscued badly when well placed, the first time after a poor clearance by Ferdinand's partner, Danny Gabbidon.
Paul Konchesky's fierce low drive 10 minutes into the second half required a fine low save by James just inside a post. It was the visitors' first real threat, and Portsmouth, much livelier, deserved to have doubled their lead after 65 minutes. Carroll turned Matthew Taylor's wickedly curling free-kick for a corner, from which he had to save Dejan Stefanovic's shot after a header by Campbell was cleared off the line.
Four new strikers replaced the original quartet and in keeping with what had gone before, Portsmouth's made by far the greater impression. Lomana LuaLua went close in a swift break and eight minutes from the end came the decisive moment. Cole, who had replaced Benjani Mwaruwari, played a clever one-two with Taylor, held off Jonathan Spector's tackle as the crowd appealed for a penalty and swivelled superbly to shoot past Carroll. Only the goalkeeper's feet prevented LuaLua adding a third, which would have been a little flattering to the home side, however well the majority of their players had served them.
A series of difficult away games, beginning at Chelsea on Saturday, means Portsmouth may need to keep winning at their rickety old fortress. West Ham would just settle for a goal.Reuse content