Pompey chimes rang out at Fratton Park fit to herald, at the very least, promotion. In a way, Portsmouth's remarkable 1-0 victory over Manchester United achieved as much, as it provided a huge step towards securing the club's place in the Premiership for another season.
Steve Stone scored the only goal nine minutes before half-time, giving his side an edge that they managed to protect. Portsmouth's first win over United for 47 years was described by Stone, Portsmouth's manager, Harry Redknapp, and, no doubt, any number of Pompey fans as "massive". It vaulted Portsmouth five points clear of the relegation zone, where their next opponents, Leeds United, head the appar- ently doomed Leicester City and Wolves.
Redknapp could hardly contain his joy. "This is a massive, massive three points," he said. " I thought if we could get a point that would keep our run going, but to pick up three is fantastic. It's not very often you beat Manchester United, they are a special team, but we've been playing well."
His side have won four and drawn one of their past five Premiership games, and will go to Leeds next Sunday as confident as their opponents will be downhearted after Friday's 5-0 thrashing at Arsenal. "The Leeds match is still a big game, but it's in our hands now," Redknapp said.
If Portsmouth's fans were enjoying the day's biggest celebration, Manchester City's began leaving early to prepare for what could yet turn into a wake. City were beaten 3-1 at home by Southampton and are only two points clear of the bottom three. A season which began with so much hope and expectation for Kevin Keegan's side as they left Maine Road for their splendid new City of Manchester Stadium now sees them struggling with a debt of about £60 million and with only two wins in 23 League games. Their future could hinge on the outcome of their match at Leicester next Saturday.
They were a bundle of nerves virtually from the start yesterday, but Keegan refused to accept the succinct summary of City's display by the victorious Southampton manager, Paul Sturrock. "You can smell the fear," he said, but Keegan retorted: "If he says there was fear, quote him, because I don't think it is the right word." He preferred to suggest: "There was tension in the players. Passes that they would normally make quite easily seemed hard, and we need to show more composure and a bit more confidence."
He said City's plight would be worse if they were "looking for other teams to help us", but he no doubt would not mind a limp surrender by Leicester next weekend. Down on their luck, the Foxes look doomed after losing a relegation tussle 1-0 at Blackburn to an own goal by their Greek defender Nikos Dabizas. It was Blackburn's first win in 10 home games and put them alongside Portsmouth on 37 points, probably out of harm's way.
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