Harry Redknapp knew that rescuing Portsmouth from relegation would be a monumental task, but in his first match back in charge last night he learned that fate can be cruellest on the strugglers. Beaten by two goals in the final seven minutes, Portsmouth's newly re-installed manager saved his wrath for the referee Uriah Rennie whose dubious late penalty award was the trigger for the demise of Redknapp's side.
Redknapp had come down from the stand to the bench after the break to see Ledley King equalise the lead that Lomana LuaLua had given Portsmouth in the first half, but there had been no sign that Portsmouth were about to crumble in the closing stages. When, on 83 minutes, substitute Andy Reid's free-kick struck the Portsmouth wall, a yard inside the box, referee Rennie appeared to respond to a strong appeal from the Tottenham players to punish Gary O'Neill for the harshest of handballs.
It was a decision that provoked a fury in Redknapp who said that the penalty, which was tucked home by Mido, was a "scandalous decision" , the kind "you see given once in 100."
Redknapp added: "No way was it a penalty, he has kicked it straight at him. He never lifted his hand or put his arm above his head. The referee made three wrong decisions in the run-up to that goal and it has cost us a point that we deserved." For a team with only ten points from the season it was not simply a draw that Portsmouth deserved but one they desperately needed. After his first close look at the task that confronts him at Fratton Park, Redknapp said that survival in the Premiership would represent a "miracle" for his players. When LuaLua beat Paul Robinson from 30 yards for the first goal on 24 minutes it seemed like there might just be a greater force at work, but Tottenham's reply from King, Mido and Jermain Defoe was a brutal return to reality.
Redknapp selected a side last night with five Englishmen and the Cameroon striker Vincent Pericard recalled from his loan spell at Sheffield United where he had spent most of his time on the substitutes' bench Redknapp said this was a team of players that he "knew best". "I picked a team of honest lads that I knew from before," he said. "I know what they give you. That's the problem with this club, lots of good players have left and not such good ones have come in to replace them."
Five of those who started for Redknapp last night were in the last Portsmouth team he selected, on 20 November last year, that lost 3-1 to Manchester City. So much has changed since then but Redknapp admitted that "January is a long time away" and that his side will have to start picking up points before then.
"I thought they were fantastic," he said. "They worked their socks off. We had a plan and everything worked perfectly, they equalised from a set-piece but we never looked like we might cave in."
Martin Jol, the Spurs coach, said that his team's 30 points before the Christmas break was evidence of the progress that they have made even if victory was not enough to improve on their fourth position in the Premiership. His introduction of Defoe, who won the free-kick that led to the penalty and added the third goal, was crucial in turning the match although the Tottenham manager could offer no guarantees that the England striker would win his starting place back.
"As Napoleon once said 'Every general has to be a bit lucky'," was Jol's observation on the penalty award, although after 24 minutes he will have felt that the luck was all Redknapp's when Portsmouth scored with their first shot of the half. O'Neill hit a long cross-field ball to LuaLua on the right who held off a weak challenge from Lee Young-Pyo. Twisting himself into position, the Portsmouth striker allowed the ball to bounce once before dispatching a low shot that skipped off the turf and into the right corner of Paul Robinson's goal.
The England No 1 can be grateful that Sven Goran Eriksson was otherwise engaged last night because watching his goalkeeper concede from that kind of distance can give even the most optimistic manager a flicker of doubt. Now is not the time for Eriksson's first-choice goalkeeper to betray a weakness to speculative shots from long distance.
Robinson did well to save from Pericard on 53 minutes when the striker went through, and moments later Tottenham were level. It was the job of Portsmouth defender Linvoy Primus to mark King when Michael Carrick's corner from the right wing came in on 56 minutes but the right-back lost his man and the Tottenham captain was allowed a near-post header which beat Jamie Ashdown from close range.
Further redemption from Robinson followed on 58 minutes when he clawed away Matthew Taylor's shot from close range and Dejan Stefanovic had a goalbound header clipped away by the heel of Lua Lua.
Two minutes later, Tottenham had taken the lead when Defoe was fouled by Stefanovic and, with his first touch of the game, Reid struck a free-kick which rose up and brushed the hand of O'Neill whose arm had risen as he leapt up to block the ball.
Mido then slipped in his sixth Premiership goal of the season from the spot and Portsmouth collapsed. On 89 minutes, Defoe fetched a cross from the right side of the area and, with his back to goal and no obvious route back, turned Andy Griffin before striking a low shot between Ashdown's legs for the third goal.
It was an ignominious end after so much effort expended by Portsmouth the battle promises only to get harder both for them and Redknapp.
Tottenham (4-4-2): Robinson; Stalteri, Dawson, King, Yong-Pyo; Jenas, Davids, Carrick, Tainio (Routledge, 40; Reid, 82); Mido, Keane (Defoe, 69). Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Kelly.
Portsmouth (4-5-1): Ashdown; Primus, Stefanovic, O'Brien, Griffin; LuaLua, O'Neil, Viafara, Hughes, Taylor (Robert, 86); Pericard. Substitutes not used: Westerveld (gk), Priske, Todorov, Cisse.
Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire)Reuse content