In two contrasting years since he took charge at Goodison Park, Wayne Rooney has always been around to lighten a dark moment for David Moyes and in that respect it was appropriate that the wonder boy should bring a smile to the face of the Everton manager yesterday.
A goalless draw would have been an aptly miserable outcome for a contest of too little quality but, just as it seemed Moyes would have another unsatisfactory result to digest, up popped his young prodigy to ease relegation worries and deepen Portsmouth's.
Moyes's second season has been a massive contrast with the first, when the same side just missed qualification for the Uefa Cup. This time, the familiar fear of the drop has returned and there was much relief from an anxious home crowd at a result that puts eight points between themselves and their beaten opponents, who slip into the bottom three.
"It was not great," Moyes said. "There was not much quality in the whole game. We have played much better in games where we haven't got what we deserved but when you get to this stage of the season the result is more important than the performance and from that point of view we are pleased. In the end it was a bit of quality that settled it. I thought Wayne struggled to make an impact up to then but good players are capable of making the one chance count."
Portsmouth defended resolutely, Linvoy Primus and Arjan de Zeeuw working hard to contain Rooney's bright movement. But in the end the teenager slipped the leash. Tomasz Radzinski, a lively substitute after Duncan Ferguson had suffered a first-half hamstring injury, forced a mistake from Primus, found his team-mate with a square pass across the penalty area and Rooney, his body movement wrong-footing the full-back John Curtis, fired a low right-foot shot past Shaka Hislop's reach.
Otherwise it was an Everton performance with little to commend it. Their defending at times was sloppily casual - Alan Stubbs was almost embarrassed after 15 minutes when a weak, headed back-pass failed to reach Nigel Martyn - while their attacking play begged for some class.
Kevin Kilbane occasionally threatened, forcing a save from Hislop inside the first five minutes, and Steve Watson's heading twice tested the Portsmouth goalkeeper. Radzinzki screwed the ball wide when a Watson header ricocheted to his feet, possibly taken by surprise by the chance.
Portsmouth might consider themselves unlucky but they came up with nothing by which they could have won, their team seemingly set up to grind out a draw with only Aiyegbeni Yakubu deployed as a striker and Lomana Lua-Lua so ineffective in a wide role that he was replaced at half-time. Indeed, Rooney's confidence soared so much after he had broken the deadlock he could have punished them further.
"We are going to have to win some away games if we are going to stay up," Harry Redknapp, the Portsmouth manager, said afterwards. But that is something his team have so far failed to do in 14 attempts.
Everton 1 Portsmouth 0
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