A trip to the Premiership's most southerly club may seem unconnected to Sir Alex Ferguson's contention that Chelsea will drop points "oop north" but Fratton Park is as earthy a football ground as can be found in the game's élite division: southern coast, northern passion. Both Manchester United, who lost here, and Arsenal, who won narrowly, will have thus felt justified in hoping Chelsea dropped points yesterday.
With Jose Mourinho fielding a makeshift defence, albeit still one of considerable quality, this was a match one could imagine Chelsea losing, which is not something that can often be envisaged. Instead they increased their Premiership lead to eight points.
The new Chelsea are hard to beat having conceded only eight league goals all season. They also have a cutting edge and if the goal which broke the deadlock after 79 minutes was fortunate, Arjen Robben's shot being deflected past Shaka Hislop, it followed a period of growing pressure. In injury time Joe Cole added a flattering second. With Everton losing at Charlton yesterday, Arsenal remain second but must play at Newcastle United tonight in the knowledge they cannot afford even to draw.
"This is a big victory for us," Mourinho said. "I told the players at half-time it is not a game in which you can show your quality. This was not a day for dribbling or beautiful possession. It was a day to show how much you want to be champions. At half-time I was happy it was still nil-nil because Portsmouth made it difficult for us. But we created chances in the second half and in the end deserved to win."
Portsmouth had made two changes from the team which won at Crystal Palace on Boxing Day, Chelsea three from the XI which defeated Aston Villa. The most interesting changes were Mourinho's decision to play the right-footed Paulo Ferreira at left-back rather than Wayne Bridge, an unpopular figure at Fratton Park because of his Southampton background, and to include Alexei Smertin. Ferreira's change in role meant only one of Mourinho's usual back-four were present and playing in their customary position. This, together with the location, meant Portsmouth fancied their chances.
The least a Fratton crowd expects is a passionate commitment to the cause and Portsmouth's attitude was typified by the enthusiasm of the recalled Gary O'Neil. Both Damien Duff and Robben were forced to drop deep both to augment their outnumbered midfield and to search for possession.
Not that this was not entirely due to Pompey's remorseless harrying. The inclusion of Didier Drogba at the expense of Eidur Gudjohnsen meant Chelsea lacked forward mobility. The Ivorian was picked because he needs to regain sharpness and now is as good a time as any to rest Gudjohnsen. Drogba forced a sharp save from Shaka Hislop in the second minute, and another when put through by Duff after 59, but was otherwise ineffectual. Portsmouth's best response was a fierce 20th-minute shot by Nigel Quashie which drew an agile and watchful save from Peter Cech.
As the second half wore on tiredness inevitably began to tell and gaps appeared. Chelsea, with Gudjohnsen on, were better placed to exploit them and Glen Johnson and Gudjohnsen went close before Cole released Duff on the left. The ball was transferred via Gudjohnsen and Lampard to Robben whose shot struck Matthew Taylor's knee to leave Hislop stranded.
"They got a break, which gave them a goal," said Joe Jordan, Portsmouth's coach. "After that they were very professional." All except Robben, who was booked for celebrating by taking his shirt off. "It was stupid but it was so important for the team," Robben said. "I am willing to take the yellow card for the three points." In injury time Cole, set up by Gudjohnsen, drilled the ball in from 20 yards. It was hugely important to Cole whose late run as substitute was his first appearance in the Premiership since October.
"It's far from over," Jordan warned. "Teams have been caught when 10 points clear. The tests are still ahead." This test, however, has been passed.
Portsmouth (4-4-1-1): Hislop; Griffin, Primus, De Zeeuw, Taylor; Stone (Cissé, 76), Faye, Quashie (Berkovic, 83), O'Neil; Kamara (Fuller, 62); Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Berger.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Johnson, Gallas, Terry, Ferreira; Smertin (Cole, 74), Makelele, Lampard; Duff, Drogba (Gudjohnsen, 59), Robben (Geremi, 81). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Bridge.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).Reuse content