Portsmouth 3, Derby County 1: Mwaruwari hat-trick reassures Redknapp
Monday 21 January 2008
Harry Redknapp will find himself wondering at times what might have been had he taken the Newcastle job, yet there were enough signs in this comfortable triumph to suggest he has plenty to look forward to on the South Coast.
Portsmouth rediscovered much of the fizz that characterised their early-season football against an admittedly fragile Derby, with Benjani Mwaruwari's second hat-trick of the season illuminating the afternoon. After six Premier League games without a goal at Fratton Park that was a welcome relief for Pompey but it wasn't all about the Zimbabwean striker. Redknapp, in his second spell with Portsmouth, is fashioning a team full of quality and the desire to play the game the right way.
Newcastle will be looking for much of the same following Kevin Keegan's return to the North East, which perhaps goes some way towards explaining why Redknapp was courted in the first place.
Among Mwaruwari's supporting cast, there were eye-catching contributions from Pedro Mendes and Niko Kranjcar in midfield, while Lassana Diarra, their £5m arrival from Arsenal, displayed neat footwork and intelligent use of the ball on his debut.
"I want them to play and that's why I bring them here," said Redknapp. "I said to Benjani that we needed a big performance because we are missing the African boys who give you something else. With Diarra, I was well pleased to get him here because he is different class. Pedro did well, and Kranjcar has got ability, terrific ability. Confident, you know. I don't know how far we can go."
Redknapp's defection to Southampton three years ago still rankles with the Pompey die-hards, though his decision to stay this time, and his quote in the match programme that he is "Pompey until I die", is winning them over.
Much of their acclaim on Saturday inevitably was for Mwaruwari, whose classy 17-minute hat-trick either side of the interval settled the contest after Lewin Nyatanga had given Derby an early lead. "I'm very happy," he said. "My target was between 10 and 15 goals, but now as I've scored 12 I need to push more. Maybe I can even get more than 15. The second goal gave me the more satisfaction because I don't normally score with my head. The third was a great team move."
For Derby, beaten 18 times in the League this season and with only one point from Paul Jewell's nine games in charge, the optimism of their opening-day 2-2 draw against the same opponents is long gone.
"We want to improve the squad particularly for next year," Jewell admitted. "It is not easy to stand here and say we are down. I won't accept that, but I am a realist. Next season I want players who are going to get us up the League."
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