Taylor helps Portsmouth find focus as Robert disappears

Sunderland 1 Portsmouth 4
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The Independent Football

The Portsmouth midfielder conveniently declared himself unfit with a groin affliction which developed rapidly after he was informed at the team hotel that he had lost his starting place. Perrin's problems were compounded when Robert's replacement, Salif Diao, failed a late fitness test, leaving the visitors with only four substitutes.

Robert's dented ego later eased to allow him to be at the stadium to witness a Matthew Taylor-inspired Portsmouth clinch a remarkable victory, courtesy of a second-half revival in which the midfielder scored twice and made the other two.

"I didn't refuse to play," protested Robert. "I got injured in training on Thursday and this morning I told the manager I wasn't right. I wasn't right but I will be back. I don't know what the manager said when I told him I wasn't playing, I just told him I wanted to be right for the next match against Wigan."

Whether Robert paid the price for being the players' public mouthpiece to air grievances or was the fall guy for a series of poor displays became irrelevant thanks to Portsmouth's second-half exploits.

Perrin claimed Robert was fit to train on Friday, and will seek answers from the midfielder as to why he wasn't informed of the injury earlier: "After I announced the team Laurent told me he wasn't fit," said Perrin. "I have to believe what he's told me but if I'd known before he could have stayed at home and I'd have brought someone else. He was OK on Friday and trained as normal. I want to know why he didn't tell me before and I'll be asking him that."

Robert's clearly stirred team-mates secured only their second Premiership victory of the season thanks to Taylor, who flicked on Gregory Vignal's ball for Zvonimir Vukic to strike the leveller with a crisp left-foot finish just after the break.

Shortly before the hour Taylor took advantage of a mix-up, not for the first time this season, between Kelvin Davis and Alan Stubbs to put Portsmouth ahead from a dozen yards. His most dramatic intervention arrived on 67 minutes, as he caught Davis off his line with a wonderful 40-yard lob.

Those Sunderland fans who vilified their goalkeeper, including one who ran on to the pitch to make his feelings known, might have been better placed to admire the vision and technical acumen of Taylor, who crossed for Dario Silva to head the fourth seven minutes later.

Sunderland prop up the Premiership after perhaps the most crushing defeat during Mick McCarthy's two-and-a-half-year tenure.

Dean Whitehead's fourth-minute penalty after a handball by Brian Priske was long forgotten as the hosts were heckled off by the few supporters who remained at the death.

McCarthy admitted the second-half display was an embarrassment: "The turn-around was hard to believe, and it's probably the worst we've played over a 45-minute spell.

"We were piss poor and I can understand fans leaving early, I would have done but I had to stay. It became an embarrassment and I've said that to the players."

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