Portsmouth 3 Reading 1: Kanu inspires Portsmouth's European dream

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The Independent Online

With around 20 minutes to go, Alexandre Gaydamak could be seen at the front of the directors box, rocking back and laughing. Other owners can seem at times slightly bemused by events on the pitch, but on the Frenchman's face was written sheer enjoyment. Little wonder. Pedro Mendes had just brought a superb save from Marcus Hahnemann with a 25-yard drive, his side were 3-0 up, playing superbly, and on their way to fourth place in the Premiership.

"Judge us after 10 games," their manager, Harry Redknapp, had said amid the excitement that surrounded Portsmouth's start to the season.

Well, that point has been reached, and Portsmouth are still flying. Redknapp was even tempted into using the "E" word on Saturday evening: Europe. "I reckon Jose Mourinho's worried," he said. "We all know who the big four are, and though Liverpool are struggling a bit, at least the top three will come from those four. Then there's Tottenham and Bolton, Everton maybe, Blackburn, you'd have thought West Ham after last season, all going for fifth and sixth. It's certainly not impossible for us. Those Uefa Cup places are up for grabs."

Would taking his team into Europe represent his finest achievement? "Staying up last year will take some beating," he said, and in that comment came a reminder of just how bad things were when Redknapp returned to the club in place of Alain Perrin. "After about a week I knew what I'd taken on," he said. "The squad of players we had was frightening. It just wasn't good enough."

He coaxed them to survival, but admits the campaign took its toll. "When you have to go to Wigan and win, that's pressure," he said. "When you want to do well so badly it's part of you, that's pressure. I'm not a person who can switch off. You take it home with you. Your pride's at stake. That's what drives me on."

Redknapp is presumably sleeping more soundly these days. Things are so relaxed at Fratton Park that the crowd even found it within themselves to cheer off Benjani Mwaruwari, despite him missing an open goal and squandering two one-on-ones.

A run of four defeats in five games had drawn suggestions that the wheels had fallen off, but Saturday's performance was an emphatic rebuttal. Reading, perhaps punch-drunk from their pummelling against Arsenal the previous week, never got going, and with Kanu dropping deep to orchestrate passing, Portsmouth looked genuine European contenders.

In two years with West Bromwich Albion, he managed just seven goals, but he has managed that many in nine starts since joining Portsmouth in the summer. Sol Campbell was also superb - not merely defensively, but in cushioning a lob into the box for Kanu to score Portsmouth's second.

Pedro Mendes also enjoyed an excellent game, creating the first with an in-swinging corner that flicked in off Brynjar Gunnarsson, and then smashing a volley in off the post to make it 3-0 after 66 minutes. Kevin Doyle's fourth of the season was all but an irrelevance.

Goals: Gunnarsson (10 og) 1-0; Kanu (52) 2-0; Pedro Mendes (66) 3-0; Doyle (84) 3-1.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Primus (Pamarot 46), Campbell, Stefanovic; O'Neil, David, Mendes, Taylor; Kanu (Cole, 80), Mwaruwari (LuaLua, 72). Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Kranjcar.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Shorey, Sonko, Gunnarsson, Harper; Seol (Oster, 73), Sidwell, Ingimarsson, Convey (Lita, 73); Long (Little, 55), Doyle. Substitutes not used: Frederici (gk), Bikey.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Man of the match: Kanu.

Attendance: 20,146.

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