Yakubu's power revives spirits of Fratton Park faithful

Portsmouth 2 - Middlesbrough 1
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The Independent Online

Portsmouth have been looking over their shoulders in the Premiership in recent weeks, but a hard-earned victory at Fratton Park last night should calm their nerves. After taking only one point from their previous five matches, Velimir Zajec's men came from behind to earn a deserved victory over a Middlesbrough team who failed to impose their individual superiority on the home side's collective spirit.

Portsmouth have been looking over their shoulders in the Premiership in recent weeks, but a hard-earned victory at Fratton Park last night should calm their nerves. After taking only one point from their previous five matches, Velimir Zajec's men came from behind to earn a deserved victory over a Middlesbrough team who failed to impose their individual superiority on the home side's collective spirit.

With the bottom four teams all picking up points recently, Portsmouth's Premiership survival has been looking by no means assured. The January transfer window, moreover, probably gave more cause for concern than hope for the Fratton Park faithful. It has been a busy time on the South Coast, with a month of wheeling and dealing of which Harry Redknapp would have been proud - had the better players not apparently been heading in the wrong direction.

Three have been recruited while six have moved off the payroll. The latter could prove the more significant, with the sale of Nigel Quashie to Southampton for £2.1m and Amdy Faye to Newcastle United for £2m likely to leave the club stretched in midfield.

Aliou Cissé and Richard Hughes filled the central positions here and found themselves up against the experience of Ray Parlour and Boudewijn Zenden.

Steve McClaren's team moved the ball around confidently, always looking to free Stewart Downing. The left-winger's pace and trickery, which are likely to earn him a call-up to the full England squad at the weekend, formed a constant threat, but when Middlesbrough took the lead after 34 minutes it was thanks to a bad mistake by Chalkias. The goalkeeper appeared to have Parlour's shot under control, but it bounced off his body and Malcolm Christie was first to the rebound. It was his first goal since September 2003.

Five minutes later, however, an almost identical mistake at the other end brought about Portsmouth's equaliser. Mark Schwarzer failed to hold Matthew Taylor's shot and the midfielder made no mistake with his second chance after Cissé had laid the ball back

It was due reward for Portsmouth's positive and direct approach. Ayegbeni Yakubu regularly threatened to open up the Middlesbrough defence and twice went close in the first half after cutting in from the left. Another run down the middle saw the burly striker hold off Gareth Southgate's challenge, but with only Mark Schwarzer to beat he shot wide. Yakubu was equally disappointed when his claims for a penalty after a trip by Michael Reiziger were ignored.

With Middlesbrough forced to reorganise following an injury to Colin Cooper, Reiziger moving to the centre of the defence, Portsmouth started to take control. Patrik Berger drove into the side netting twice within six minutes of the restart and Schwarzer had to be on his guard to keep out Taylor's driven cross from the left.

Middlesbrough's attacks were becoming rarer, but Parlour wasted an excellent opportunity to restore the visitors' lead after 50 minutes. The former Arsenal midfielder played a clever one-two with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, only to shoot tamely at Chalkias.

McClaren's men were soon made to pay for Parlour's miss. Ricardo Fuller had been very much the junior partner in Portsmouth's attack, but after 57 minutes he created space for himself with a jinking run down the left and whipped in a cross. Yakubu, ever alert, beat Frank Queudrue to the ball and drove it into the net from close range.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Chalkias; Primus, Stefanovic, De Zeeuw, Taylor; O'Neil, Cissé, Hughes, Berger (Rodic, 81); Fuller (Skopelitis, 73), Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Curtis, Ashdown (gk), Mezague.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Reiziger, Southgate, Cooper (McMahon, 29; Graham, 81), Queudrue; Parlour, Morrison, Zenden, Downing; Christie (Job, 66), Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Doriva.

Referee: P Crossley (Kent).

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