When Harry Redknapp employed his persuasive powers to assemble his latest collection of multi-national football talents, it is reasonable to assume that the peculiar pleasures of an away game at Rotherham did not feature prominently in the former West Ham manager's sales patter.
Millmoor is a ground the passage of time appears to have overlooked. The Tivoli End favoured by die-hard home supporters, remains a dedicated standing terrace of the kind traditionalists crave to see return. The 11,000-capacity stadium evokes an atmosphere reminiscent of the Fifties.
In the event, Redknapp's exotic Portsmouth side withstood not only the culture shock but a spirited fightback by a Rotherham side reduced to 10 men before half-time when defender Chris Swailes was controversially sent off.
The Rotherham player was shown the red card by referee Graham Laws in first-half stoppage time, a decision that saw manager Ronnie Moore, consumed with rage and even receiving Redknapp's sympathy.
Swailes was adjudged to have brought down Svetoslav Todorov in a goal-scoring position. The contact seemed minimal and the Bulgarian striker appeared to have been running towards the by-line rather than shaping to shoot, but Laws would not be swayed even by goalkeeper Mike Pollitt's protest. Pollitt was booked for his trouble, one of nine players cautioned in a game that lacked even one nasty foul.
"One man changed the game," Moore complained, "We shot ourselves in the foot by going 2-0 down, but at 2-1 we had a chance. After the sending-off it was just a matter of damage limitation.''
Redknapp added: "Toddy said he was fouled but the red card looked a bit harsh. If he was the last man then the lad had to go but it is one of those some referees give and others don't. The inconsistency is unbelievable.''
Redknapp, in fact, had already had an altercation of his own with the Whitley Bay official, who had insisted before the match that goalkeeper Shaka Hislop could not wear white cycling shorts under his kit. "The referee said he had to wear grey ones,'' Redknapp said. "I said you couldn't see them but the referee said that wasn't the point and that if he did see them during the game he would have to send Shaka off. So we had to cut them back. You can't believe it can you?''
On the field, Moore could not believe his side's naive defending as Portsmouth swept into a 2-0 lead within 23 minutes, the same tactics catching them out each time. Redknapp had deployed both his strikers in wide positions, leaving Rotherham's centre backs confused as to where to stand, and two almost identical, deep crosses by Matthew Taylor to Vincent Péricard resulted in two goals. France under-21 international Péricard scored the first himself appearing unmarked at the far post. He set up an equally simple second for Todorov.
Rotherham, who had not reached fifth in the table by rolling over in such situations, responded typically, Darren Byfield putting them back in contention with a headed goal after 31 minutes but the penalty, converted by Paul Merson, and the sending-off made Portsmouth's task in maintaining their First Division lead relatively straightforward.
With new arrival Lassina Diabate, Redknapp's free transfer signing from Auxerre, they were able to coast until Moore sent on Alan Lee with 20 minutes left. The striker immediately won, and converted, a penalty and although Redknapp appeared nonchalant afterwards, it should be noted that only a stunning save by Hislop in stoppage time prevented an equaliser by Paul Hurst, which would have preserved Rotherham's unbeaten home record.
Rotherham United 2
Byfield 34, Lee pen 73
Pericard 15, Todorov 23, Merson pen 45
Half-time: 1-3 Attendance: 8,604
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