As confirmation came that their place in the Premiership was secure and almost everyone connected with Portsmouth let rip with their emotions, Harry Redknapp was the exception. He looked towards the stand, then ambled a few yards, head down. Even the cavorting players around him could not cajole a smile.
It was almost as if he was embarrassed by the fuss around him, as if he should not have been there. And for many of the Portsmouth supporters, they were only just coming round to the notion that he should. "One Harry Redknapp," they sang, which was a big improvement on "One Greedy Bastard" of recent memory.
In a week when the Football Association has gone from a respected institution to being a byword for incompetence, football has witnessed an even bigger transformation. By dragging Portsmouth from the brink of relegation to Premiership safety by taking 20 points from a potential 27, Redknapp has metamorphosed from South Coast pariah to local hero. Even the Lazarus household are using Harry as an example of a comeback.
"I'm delighted for the supporters," Redknapp said. "They're the most important people." And the initial reaction to his return to Fratton Park? "I expected it," he replied. "In fairness they loved me the first time I was here."
The unpleasant taste left in many Pompey mouths over Redknapp's defection to Southampton has become less bitter over the past two months and the man they wished to be rid of has become the key to the club's future. Milan Mandaric said after the game that the manager's staying was a formality, but the man himself seemed less sure.
"It's not up to me, it's up to the people who own the club," Redknapp replied to a question whether he would be at Portsmouth next season. "I came here on a six-month contract and, I swear, I just shook hands with Milan and I didn't even ask him what he was going to pay me.
"I'll sit down with them, have a chat and see what's involved because, honestly, I haven't really thought about the future. I just wanted to pull this off and now that I have I'm delighted."
Anyone in the Fratton Park hierarchy who has doubts ought to watch a recording of this match. Forget the motivational skills or the Del Boy wheeler-dealer image of Harry, this was a triumph for good old-fashioned appreciation of tactics. With his left flank a smoking ruin, his central defenders run ragged and fortunate to be trailing only to Henri Camara's 34th-minute goal, Redknapp undertook a feat of reconstruction at the interval which introduced Noe Pamarot to the defence and rebuilt his midfield by switching the talented but defensively naïve Andres D'Alessandro to the right, and pushing Gary O'Neil to the middle.
The effect was like the flicking of a switch. Wigan, much the superior team in the first half, were barely seen in the second, and Portsmouth fully justified a victory secured by Benjani Mwaruwari's first goal in 15 matches since his £4.1m transfer and Matthew Taylor's second winning penalty in eight days.
Taylor had also hit the post in the build-up to Mwaruwari's goal but it was the Senegal striker who was singled out by Redknapp. "I'm so pleased for him because he can play. I have no doubt about that," the manager said. "He works hard. He has a great attitude and he can join in with people. The unfortunate thing was that he hadn't scored. I kept saying, 'He will score and hopefully it will be the day we stay up'. And it happened."
Revivalist and now a fortune teller. Is there nothing this man can't do?
Goals: Camara (34) 1-0; Mwaruwari (63) 1-1; Taylor (71, pen) 1-2.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Chimbonda, Henchoz, Jackson, Baines; Teale, Kavanagh (Johansson, 84), Thompson (Scharner, 72), McCulloch; Roberts, Camara (Connolly, 80). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Francis.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Kiely; Priske, Primus, Stefanovic, Taylor; O'Neil, Davis (Pamarot, h-t), Mendes (Hughes, 68), D'Alessandro; Mwaruwari, Todorov (Routledge, 89). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Karadas.
Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).
Booked: Wigan Baines, Henchoz, McCulloch; Portsmouth Hughes. Sent off: Wigan Teale.
Man of the match: Mwaruwari.
Portsmouth's great escape
* 11 MARCH Portsmouth 2 Manchester City 1
Mendes 59 (1-0), R Dunne 82 (1-1), Mendes 90 (2-1).
* 18 MARCH West Ham 2 Portsmouth 4
L LuaLua 18 (0-1), S Davis 24 (0-2), P Mendes 41 (0-3), T Sheringham 68 (1-3), S Todorov 76 (1-4), Y Benayoun 90 (2-4).
* 1 APRIL Fulham 1 Portsmouth 3
G O'Neil 1 (0-1), S Malbranque 9 (1-1), L LuaLua 23 (1-2), G O'Neil 61 (1-3).
* 8 APRIL Portsmouth 2 Blackburn 2
C Bellamy 31 (0-1), L LuaLua 40 (1-1), S Todorov 77 (2-1), (2-1), C Bellamy 67 (2-2).
* 12 APRIL Portsmouth 1 Arsenal 1
T Henry 35 (0-1), L LuaLua 65 (1-1).
* 15 APRIL Portsmouth 1 Boro 0
G O'Neil 53.
* 17 APRIL Charlton 2 Portsmouth 1
A D'Alessandro 39 (0-1), B Hughes 75 (1-1), D Bent 82 (2-1).
* 22 APRIL Portsmouth 2 Sunderland 1
S Todorov 72 (1-0), T Miller 69 (1-1), M Taylor (pen) 87 (2-1).
* 29 APRIL Wigan 1 Portsmouth 2
H Camara 33 (1-0), B Mwaruwari 62 (1-1), M Taylor (pen) 70 (2-1).
The goal that turned the tide
Portsmouth went into their game at Fratton Park against Manchester City on 11 March on the back of a run of four successive defeats that had left them second-bottom in the Premiership, with 18 points from 28 games. And although Pedro Mendes - a signing from Tottenham in the January transfer window - scored just before the hour with a 30-yard screamer, Richard Dunne's scrambled equaliser seven minutes from time appeared to have ruined things for the Pompey manager, Harry Redknapp. Then, deep into injury time, Mendes sent a stunning, looping shot from the edge of the box into the top left-hand corner of David James' goal. "That nervous tension, you take it home with you," Redknapp said of the unrelenting pressure of a relegation fight. "Tonight you don't sleep, last night you don't sleep. I might sleep again on Monday or Tuesday with a bit of luck."Reuse content