Wigan Athletic 0, Portsmouth 2: Benjani finally offers return on investment

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The Independent Online

The central figures in this story on Saturday were both strikers: one at last justifying an expensive transfer fee, the other proving his value by his absence.

Benjani Mwaruwari cost Portsmouth £4.1m – a club record fee at the time – when Harry Redknapp signed him from Auxerre in January 2006 but gave every impression of being a costly mistake when he managed only one goal in 16 games as Pompey desperately hung on to their Premier League status.

Six goals from 34 appearances in all competitions last season was an improvement – but still well short of what Redknapp had bargained for and led the Portsmouth manager to wonder if he had made a bad choice.

"He never stopped working but when he went through on goal you knew he would most likely miss," Redknapp said. "He didn't even score goals in training. It just looked like he was a poor finisher."

All of which makes his return so far this season all the more unexpected. In 11 games, he has found the net as many times as in his previous 50 as a Portsmouth player, Saturday's seventh of the season making him the Premier League's joint leading scorer as well as setting up his team for a fourth consecutive win.

"It is great for him because he is a lovely lad," Redknapp said. "And he never got stick from our fans. They loved the way he ran and closed down and worked so hard. Even when he was going through and hitting it 10 yards over the bar they were still singing his name." After watching Benjani, in the injured Kanu's role as sole striker, punish some dozy defending to volley home Sulley Muntari's cross with nine minutes left, the Wigan manager Chris Hutchings could only wish he could call on back-up players of similar quality.

If the absence of Emile Heskey dealt England's Euro 2008 ambitions what may have been a fatal blow, it has done his club no favours either. Since the powerhouse centre-forward suffered a broken metatarsal five weeks ago, Wigan have lost four times in a row.

"Any team would miss Emile," Hutchings said. "He is a big player for us and in the last couple of weeks it has showed but we cannot keep harping on about it. The quicker he is fit the better, although we have to resist the temptation to rush him.

"We can't risk losing him again and if it means leaving him another week, so be it. We cannot afford to be without him for another three, four or six weeks. With the other injuries we have had, we are stretched to the limit but that is the way it goes."

Redknapp admits he has copied Chelsea in adopting a system that employs a deep-lying fifth midfielder as well as a single striker. "When Chelsea won the title under Jose Mourinho it was by playing that system," he said. "It is difficult to play against it. If you pass the ball you will outnumber people in midfield and it has made us difficult to beat." Hutchings thought it was his side who were proving difficult to beat after restricting Portsmouth to only two or three shots in the first 80 minutes.

But then their concentration faltered, allowing Benjani to slip his markers before Glen Johnson ran half the length of the field to dance past Titus Bramble and score his first as a Pompey player.

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