Inevitably it will be said that Harry Redknapp's midweek dalliance with Newcastle United was a significant factor in this result. But yesterday was actually all about Sunderland. One week after Roy Keane said he was "ashamed" of the performance his players put on in the FA Cup against Wigan Athletic, Keane was able to say: "I knew we'd get a response."
Sunderland remain third-bottom, one of four teams on 20 points, but they moved five clear of second-bottom Fulham with their fifth home win of the season, their first against a top 10 club, and their goal difference improved by two. It is still the worst of the six teams in what Keane calls Sunderland's "mini-league" but this was an uplifting afternoon for Wearside – and Chelsea's Steve Sidwell is expected to arrive on loan at the end of the month.
"There was negative energy from outside the club this week, but there was good energy within," Keane said. "It was very good, a clean sheet, two goals and a good team performance."
Kieran Richardson snaffled the headlines with two well-taken goals, but Sunderland's "energy" – Keane's key word yesterday – was typified by Kenwyne Jones. "Sixty or 70 per cent fit," according to Keane, Jones nevertheless gave Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin a tough time.
When at Southampton, Redknapp gave Jones his debut in English football, but he doubted the Trinidadian's attitude. "He had everything," Redknapp said. "But he lacked that desire to be a top player. Roy has got that out of him. He looks a great investment."
Redknapp said he hoped events "would not be used as an excuse. We were poor today, a bit short, too many key players missing."
Portsmouth had won nine of their previous 10 away games and this might have been another had Benjani Mwaruwari not missed an eighth-minute sitter. Keane had dropped Paul McShane, yet the defensive uncertainty continued when, from a Pedro Mendes free-kick, Herman Hreidarsson won a header that fell to Benjani. But, six yards out and unmarked, he skewed his shot wide.
Eight minutes later Craig Gordon made a flying save to thwart Niko Kranjcar. The crowd was uneasy, another knife-edge afternoon on Wearside. But gradually Jonny Evans and Nyron Nosworthy settled in defence, Jones began to worry Distin and Campbell, and the home midfield started to harass Mendes and Co. These fans like seeing their players hunt down opponents and the atmosphere changed.
"Even Stokesy tackled," Keane said of Anthony Stokes. So, too, Daryl Murphy. He robbed Distin on the half-hour and was close with a sliding shot. Four minutes later Jones and Campbell chased an Evans long ball. Campbell appeared to give up, thinking the ball was running out; Jones did not. He caught it, brought it back around the dawdling Campbell and supplied Richardson, who tucked it into the far corner beyond David James.
Eleven minutes later, with Sunderland again pressing, Richardson took the ball from Mendes near the centre circle. From there it went to Liam Miller, then Murphy and back to Richardson, 20 yards out. A burst of pace took him past Hreidarsson and another cool finish, this time with his right foot, gave Sunderland their second.
Portsmouth were unable to pull one back and after Evans made a massive tackle on Benjani on 56 minutes, the visitors' threat was mainly territorial. Richardson was a crossbar away from a hat-trick when he collected the ball 20 yards out and hit a left-foot shot that dipped over James only to bounce back.
After the Wigan game that is what Sunderland have done. Redknapp returned south to his wife, Sandra, his dogs, Rosie and Buster, and his "happy life".
Goals: Richardson 33 (1-0); Richardson 44 (2-0).
Sunderland (4-5-1) Gordon; Whitehead, Nosworthy, Evans (McShane, 77) Collins; Stokes (Leadbitter, 73), Miller, Yorke, Richardson, Murphy; Jones (O'Donovan, 84) Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Cole.
Portsmouth (4-1-4-1) James; Pamarot, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Mendes; Benjani (Traoré, 90), Mvuemba (Songo'o 65), Hughes, Kranjcar; Nugent. Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Lauren, Wilson.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Booked: Sunderland Collins, Richardson, Yorke; Portsmouth Mendes.
Man of the match: Jones.