Solano dismissal helps struggling Portsmouth clinch first point

Portsmouth 1 - Aston Villa 1
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The Independent Football

But the jury is still out on a collection of talents only just getting to know each other. Pompey's draw was obtained against a side reduced to 10 men after 10 minutes by the dismissal of Nolberto Solano by the referee Graham Poll.

Villa's spot of business earlier in the day - when they completed the £6.75m transfer of Liverpool's Czech forward Milan Baros - might have been expected to galvanise the two men currently playing up front for them.

But the main focus soon rested upon Villa's defence as Solano was dismissed after raising a hand to Richard Hughes after the Portsmouth player had tussled with him for possession.

Solano departed the field claiming that his shirt had been pulled, something the television replay confirmed, but there was no excuse for his action - even if it was generated by frustration rather than evil intent.

This was precisely the lucky break required by a side struggling to integrate the talents of eight summer signings by manager Alain Perrin, of whom the most recent, Danish international full-back Brian Priske, was making his debut.

But it was Villa who immediately seized the initiative. Less than a minute after the dismissal, a lofted Villa free-kick from Gareth Barry was headed firmly into his own goal by Hughes, who may have been put off by the near-post run of Kevin Phillips.

It was a startling blow for Portsmouth and their vociferous and indefatigable supporters. But there was always hope for Pompey in the elusive and tricky form of Lomana LuaLua.

He caused uproar after 28 minutes when he appeared to have struck a spectacular equaliser with a flying volley, but the noise subsided into a groan as it became clear he had hit the side netting. Four minutes later there were Portsmouth claims for a penalty after Barry challenged John Viafara, but the Colombian was booked for diving.

LuaLua was irrepressible, however, and two minutes from time he had his reward as he cut in from the left past Aaron Hughes and curled a right-footed shot into the far corner of the net. It was no more than Portsmouth deserved, but Villa almost managed to turn the game againwithin a minute as Barry's free-kick crashed against the Portsmouth crossbar.

Portsmouth continued desperately to make their numerical advantage count, and after 63 minutes the maths worked perfectly for them as Gary O'Neil was left unmarked on the right side of the box as Laurent Robert made a dazzling run down the left. He eventually found Portsmouth's extra man, who promptly side-footed the ball over the bar from 10 yards out.

Robert had taken over from LuaLua as Villa's tormenter in chief and, after 66 minutes, he almost managed to put the home side ahead with an angled shot from the left, only to see Thomas Sorensen get a decisive touch to nudge the ball wide of the post.

Portsmouth: Westerveld, Priske, O'Brien, Stefanovic, Vignal, O'Neil (Todorov, 76), Viafara, Hughes, Robert, LuaLua, Karadas (Pericard, 83). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Griffin, Skopelitis.

Aston Villa: Sorensen, Hughes, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Barry, Solano, McCann, Davis, Whittingham, Phillips (De la Cruz, 37), Angel (Moore, 74). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Djemba-Djemba, Cahill.

Referee: G Poll (Herts).