Come to the cabaret, they said. Well, we did, and for 80 minutes it was as though the chorus line hadn't turned up. But then two substitutions from Juande Ramos, at the conclusion of a hitherto uninspiring contest, and a goal apiece for the players introduced, Darren Bent – the £17m striker scoring the 100th goal here in all competitions this season – and Jamie O'Hara, with his first League goal, and the old place was swinging again.
What can you say about the Spaniard? He began the afternoon suited, as though heading for a business meeting, amid a swirling blizzard. He ended it, proclaimed a veritable wizard, having also made changes to transform the Carling Cup final in his team's favour last month. Yesterday, it meant withdrawing a central defender, Michael Dawson, together with Aaron Lennon, who had endured a frustrating afternoon, displaying that typical verve in his approach play, but too frequently ending it with an indifferent delivery.
Omitted by Fabio Capello for the squad to face France on Wednesday, the winger scarcely improved his prospects in front of the watching England manager. In contrast, Tom Huddlestone, an England Under-21 midfielder, enhanced his claim on a future senior England place with his vision and passing, a contribution described as "magnificent" by his manager.
Ramos's 70th-minute substitutions meant that Spurs were playing with three strikers. The Spurs manager admitted it was a deployment he would "only use if there was a state of urgency, because it brings with it risk". Indeed, before Tottenham's opener, Glen Johnson's splendidly delivered ball forward from the right offered Kanu an inviting opportunity to score and, although the striker had arrived first to head the ball past Paul Robinson, there was insufficient power in it, and Didier Zokora managed to clear.
That had been as close as the visitors, and FA Cup semi-finalists, had got. That was, in part, because Jonathan Woodgate was in such commanding form, but also because Portsmouth arrived without six players who would have started, according to manager Harry Redknapp. They were absent because of injury or suspension, or in the case of Jermain Defoe, ineligibility following the deal that took him from Spurs to Fratton Park.
In particular, they missed the French midfielder Lassana Diarra, who will miss Wednesday's game against England. Redknapp said that his team could have been further reduced, as captain Sylvain Distin wife's was about to give birth. "We were waiting for the phone call," he said. "If it had come we would have had to bring in young Marc Wilson, who has been on loan at Bournemouth". The Pompey manager added, laughing: "Or, of course, there was always Tony Adams [Portsmouth's assistant manager]. He could still do it. He wouldn't let you down". Redknapp added: "With 10 minutes to go, I thought we would have a terrific result, considering the players out. But our main priority, in all honesty, is the Cup."
David James, England's No 1 goalkeeper, had most to do in a subdued first half, foiling Robbie Keane and also dealing comfortably with Huddlestone's free-kick, yet it was Sean Davis's exquisite chip in the 16th minute which nearly deceived Robinson, only for the ex-England No 1 to back-track and tip the ball over.
Pascal Chimbonda volleyed just wide with James motionless as Spurs pressed and the goalkeeper was almost embarrassed when, after a Spurs attack broke down, he played the ball out with his feet and Keane, who had been lurking unseen behind him, nearly stole the ball off him. Dimitar Berbatov had the ball in the net but was adjudged offside, and Dawson volleyed against the bar, following a corner. Before the break, Berbatov shot wide and Huddlestone over.
The game was heading for an unanticipated stalemate when Bent headed home after Steed Malbranque's shot was blocked and Berbatov's scuffed attempt flew into the path of the substitute. Bent set up the second 80 seconds later, leaving Hermann Hreidarsson for dead down the left before crossing for O'Hara to slide into an empty net.
If there were two certainties about this game, it was that there would be goals, and that Bent, for all his contribution here, is likely to be back on the bench next time.Reuse content