Sommeil salvages City's big day

Manchester City 1 Portsmouth 1
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The Independent Football

It was never meant to be this way. Manchester City were supposed to start a brave new era at their City of Manchester stadium with a thumping win against new boys Portsmouth. Instead, they just managed a draw, courtesy of a last-minute header by David Sommeil, who might have been sent off for cheating moments earlier.

All in all, the occasion got the better of not only the City players but also the fans. Both groups spent the first half admiring their surroundings rather than focusing on the job in hand. Perhaps newly promoted Portsmouth were not quite the opposition City had been hoping for to christen their new home, but one might have thought that the occasion alone would be enough to set pulses racing.

"This was not a great day," Kevin Keegan, Manchester City's manager, admitted. "We were desperate to start well at this magnificent stadium, but just couldn't seem to find any rhythm or drive. It was one of those things."

The first 20 minutes had seen both sides sizing each other up without creating any genuine chances when, out of nowhere, Arjan de Zeeuw won a towering header in the centre circle to release Yakubu Ayegbeni on goal. The 20-year-old Nigerian, who joined Harry Redknapp's crew in the summer from Maccabi Haifa, won the race to the ball ahead of David Seaman before rounding him and burying the ball in the back of the net. Not bad for a £200,000 investment.

Apart from a loyal band of Portsmouth supporters, the stadium fell even more silent, as the possibility of a failed premiere began to dawn on the City faithful. It said much that it was not until shortly after the half-hour mark that the home side created their first chance: a looping header from Shaun Wright-Phillips had Shaka Hislop beaten, but it just missed the target.

Portsmouth, meanwhile, were settling into their Premiership groove with every passing minute. It is too early to say if Redknapp's team will be good enough to stay up, but the one given is that they will not hoof their way to safety. Well organised and easy on the eye, Portsmouth will give most sides a good game.

"I'm encouraged by the start we've made," Redknapp said, "although I've got to tell you the lads are a little disappointed they didn't win that one." So they should be.

It came as little surprise that Keegan chose to replace Robbie Fowler, who picked up a first-half knock, with Paulo Wanchope at half-time. One wonders how much longer Keegan will continue to support the former Liverpool man, particularly as the team performed with far more verve after the break.

So, too, did the crowd, who were in much better voice throughout the second half. They nearly had something special to celebrate when Trevor Sinclair's low cross was almost turned into his own net by the lunging De Zeeuw. Moments later, City went close again, this time through Michael Tarnat, whose left-footed free-kick stung Hislop's hands at the near post.

Then Wright-Phillips collected the ball on the half-way line, drove at the Pompey defence and evaded three challenges before seeing his cross-field shot slide wide of goal. The home side now had the bit between their teeth and sought to make their pressure tell by introducing Eyal Berkovic. The little Israeli had tried to engineer a move away from City earlier in the summer, but now insists he is happy to fight for the cause.

Berkovic certainly added a little extra invention to the City attacks, but Portsmouth's defenders, and the excellent De Zeeuw in particular (a free transfer from Wigan 14 months ago, by the way), were refusing to buckle. No matter what City tried - including Sommeil's appalling piece of play-acting when he fell to the ground clutching his face after he had, in fact, elbowed Vincent Péricard - Redknapp's team seemed to be keeping their shape and their heads.

But then came the moment the home fans had been praying for all afternoon. Right at the death, Joey Barton floated in a free-kick which Sommeil - who else - rose highest to head home. The party could, finally, begin in earnest.

Manchester City 1
Sommeil 90

Portsmouth 1
Ayegbini 24

Half-time 0-1 Attendance: 46,287

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