Harry Redknapp loves West Ham. Not only did he experience some of the finest moments of his playing and managerial career at the East London academy but he also enjoys taking on his former employees. Last night's visit to Upton Park was his third as Portsmouth manager and all have ended in victories.
If West Ham had been hoping to take advantage of any hangovers following Portsmouth's celebrations in reaching the FA Cup final they were quickly disappointed. A fine winning goal by Nico Kranjcar was just reward for a thoroughly professional display by Portsmouth, who preserved their record of not losing a top-flight match on this ground for 50 years.
More importantly the victory maintained Pompey's momentum in the Premier League. It is still not clear whether Cardiff City would be eligible to play in the Uefa Cup should they beat Portsmouth in next month's Cup final, which means that Redknapp's only certain route into Europe would be through claiming fifth place in the league. His team are now within four points of fifth-placed Everton, though both clubs have only five matches left to play.
Redknapp has generally fielded a lone striker on Portsmouth's travels this season and beefed up his midfield, a strategy that has brought a rich reward. Only Chelsea can better their record of nine away wins in the Premier League.
In the absence of Jermain Defoe (attending his grandmother's funeral in St Lucia), Milan Baros (injured) and Nwankwo Kanu (recuperating on the bench after his Cup heroics at the weekend), David Nugent was given a rare chance to lead the line. The former Preston striker never stopped running, though the greatest threat always looked likely to come from midfield and from Kranjcar in particular.
West Ham's season has rapidly descended into mid-table mediocrity. Lacking spark and creating pitifully few chances, they were booed off the pitch by a crowd who had reserved their biggest cheer for the arrival of Freddie Sears as a second-half substitute, although the youngster made little difference.
The home side's two best chances came within 60 seconds of each other early in the first half. David James was admirably alert when he rushed out of his penalty area to head clear after Dean Ashton had raced on to Nolberto Solano's through ball, though the goalkeeper's next foray was less successful. Bobby Zamora beat James to the ball, but after rounding him screwed his shot wide of the far post from a tight angle.
Thereafter West Ham struggled to make any inroads. Pedro Mendes provided a sturdy barrier in front of his back four and on the rare occasions when West Ham did break through Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin stood firm.
Portsmouth played a containing game for most of the first half, but quickly took control after the restart. Kranjcar had already gone close with one rasping shot when he scored the winner just after the hour. The Croatian has a sweet left foot, but this was struck beautifully from the edge of the penalty area with his right after Sulley Muntari's astute pass.
"Coming on the back of a Cup semi-final you hope you come out and react the right way and that's exactly what we did," Redknapp said after the match. "It's not as though we got on the coach after the semi-final and all started singing 'We're all going to Wembley'. We've just got on with the job."
Alan Curbishley, West Ham's manager, was frustrated at his team's recent form, which has brought just one win from seven games. "Portsmouth flooded the midfield, but I'm not complaining about that," he said. "As the game wore on Portsmouth got stronger, whereas we looked very flat."
Goal: Kranjcar (61)
West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Neill, Spector, Ferdinand, McCartney; Solano (Pantsil, 82), Parker, Mullins (Cole, 73), Boa Morte; Ashton, Zamora (Sears, 57). Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Tomkins.
Portsmouth (4-1-4-1): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Mendes (Hughes, 82); Mvuemba, Diop, Muntari, Kranjcar; Nugent (Kanu, 73). Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Lauren, Davis.
Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).
Man of the match: Kranjcar
Attendance: 33,629Reuse content