In the sheer relief of victory the Millwall manager, Mick McCarthy, was happy to speak of the certainty of defeat. "We're going to be beaten, no doubt about that, and the more the lads win the harder it is to keep it going," he said. "You just have to hope it's a long way down the road."
McCarthy was less frank in his assessment of how close Fratton Park was to being the terminus for his side's journey. He could hardly fail to notice that they had enjoyed some luck but was not keen to agree with the verdict of the Portsmouth manager, Terry Fenwick, that Millwall had suffered a grilling.
Perhaps McCarthy was right in concentrating on the virtues, for the First Division leaders had held on precariously to their lead for 73 minutes. Their defence was penetrated regularly by direct, rather than flowing, movement but did not allow themselves to be panicked.
The longer McCarthy is in charge the more his team seem to be moulded in his image as a player. As a rugged centre- half, he was strong in the air, not averse to the occasional incisive pass to feet but always aware of the importance of sound defence and not giving the ball away. More importantly, he knows the value of such qualities in the First Division is unlikely to fall.
But for all the stoicism of Millwall's defence under a barrage of attacks in the second half the essential difference between the sides was at the front. Portsmouth, long on zest if short on versatility, were woeful when the goal was in sight.
They clearly learned little from the simplest of lessons in scoring, delivered early in the afternoon. Kerry Dixon scored his third goal of the season by spotting the space, dashing away from his marker across the area and hitting the target.
Goal: Dixon (17) 0-1.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Knight; Pethick, Dobson (Igoe, 25), Gittens, Russell; Carter (Bradbury, 51), Simpson, McCloughlin, Rees, Burton (Griffiths, 77), Hall.
Millwall (4-4-2): Keller; Newman, Stevens, Witter, Thatcher; Savage (Doyle, 66), Rae, Bowery, Van Blerk; Fuchs (Malkin, 66), Dixon. Subtitute not used: Rogan.
Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucestershire).Reuse content