Slick Blackburn put an end to Pompey's golden run

Portsmouth 1 Blackburn Rovers 2
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The Independent Football

A fine second-half recovery - conducted to a tumultuous chorus of the Pompey Chimes - and a fine headed goal by the defender Arjan De Zeeuw, were not quite enough to preserve Portsmouth's unbeaten record. In the end Blackburn's earlier authority, underlined by scores from Lucas Neill and Andy Cole, extended their unbeaten streak at Fratton Park to seven.

While maintaining that his team have played better this season and got less for it, Blackburn's manager, Graeme Souness, praised their fighting quality and skills, and he had a special word for Neill, who was involved in last week's unsavoury red-card incident against Liverpool when Jamie Carragher broke a leg.

"I am delighted for Lucas, who has had a difficult week," he said. "He will be a better man and a better player for his experience last weekend. I haven't said anything to him at all but he has responded like a man." Souness was also happy that his team "never wilted" in the face of Portsmouth's pressure.

That pressure was never seen in the first half, with Blackburn ruling the midfield. The excellent Brett Emerton controlled the flow and tempo, Kerimoglu Tugay was always eager to get forward with him, and newcomer Barry Ferguson looked as if he had been part of the team forever.

Portsmouth's inability to string together passes meant they were soon pressed back, and Shaka Hislop had to go full length to turn aside a Cole effort which followed a darting turn at the edge of the penalty area. Hislop did even better to shovel aside a Tugay volley from fully 30 yards, which so pleased the Turk that he tried another, this time deflected for a corner.

When Blackburn's first goal came, however, there was poor defending at the heart of it. Tugay won a free-kick on the edge of the penalty zone and the ball was slipped to Cole on the left. The resulting cross evaded two desperate attempts at a clearance before Neill joyfully smashed it in from close range.

Portsmouth were clinging on in the hope of avoiding further disaster before the interval. They almost made it, too, only for Emerton to slide a fine pass into the path of Cole, who turned De Zeeuw beautifully and finished emphatically. "Andy has been on fire this year and we have got to keep him that way," said Souness.

The home side's best first- half chance came in added time. Tim Sherwood found his old Spurs team-mate Teddy Sheringham, but the scorer of five goals this season miskicked embarrassingly.

Portsmouth's intention to turn things round was not long in showing, and Brad Friedel needed two attempts to hang on to Amde Feye's low shot through a crowded area. Portsmouth's manager, Harry Redknapp, now down on the touchline in shirtsleeves, threw an extra striker, Jason Roberts, into the fray and withdrew Sherwood.

Inside two minutes the switch paid dividends, with Steve Stone's corner perfectly flighted for De Zeeuw to head in. The supporters got raucously behind their side, and when another Stone cross was pushed out by Friedel, Sheringham should certainly have got much closer to the target than he did.

Despite their sweat and zeal, Portsmouth conjured up nothing more dangerous than that. In fact, they almost conceded a third when, in a swift counterattack, Emerton's shot cannoned back off an upright before Hislop had even moved to it.

As ever, Redknapp was philosophical. "We've got nine points and we've made a good start. And if we play like we did in the second half we should be okay this season."

Portsmouth 1
De Zeeuw 57

Blackburn Rovers 2
Neill 35, Cole 43

Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 20,024

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