PORTSMOUTH 2 CITY 1
Nationwide League Division 1
17th November 2001
Portsmouth Bradbury(54), Crouch(77)
City Weaver, Mettomo, Pearce, Howey, Dunne, Wright-Phillips, Benarbia, Negouai, Horlock, Goater, Huckerby – subs Wiekens(unused), Granville(unused), Shuker(unused), Nash(unused), Mike(40)
Portsmouth Kawaguchi, Crowe, Hiley, Zemperini, Harper, Prosinecki, Barrett, O’neil, Pitt, Crouch, Bradbury – subs Vincent(unused), Waterman(unused), Mills(unused), Lovell(unused), Tardiff(unused)
Just like in the televised game at Preston last month, the inconsistent Blues collapsed from a position of strength and dominance. In doing so they tossed away yet more valuable promotion points, a bad habit that needs breaking at all costs.
Faced with determined opponents, the Blues’ makeshift midfield melted away at Fratton Park ending the run of four games without defeat that promised so much yet provided only another false dawn in a season of energy sapping ups and downs.
At least manager Kevin Keegan will have been slightly more cheered by the overall performance than at Deepdale. The truth is that City made, and missed, enough chances to have comfortably won the contest.
As predicted, Keegan handed an immediate debut to latest signing Christian Negouai, who arrived from Belgian club Charleroi for £1.5m in midweek. The rangy 23-year-old, who proved he has no superstitions by taking the vacant number 13 shirt, slotted into a defensive midfield role in the absence of Aussie Danny Tiatto and Israeli Eyal Berkovic, who were respectively away on World Cup duty and suspended. Negouai was quiet but reasonably efficient.
Kevin Horlock was the other beneficiary of the enforced absences coming on to the left flank, while youngster Leon Mike found himself a place on the bench for the first time in his Maine Road career The 20-year·old was in familiar company alongside another Academy product in Chris Shuker but there was no place for another of the Blues’ promising youngsters Dickson Etuhu. Nigerian-born Etuhu is still locked in contract talks with boss Kevin Keegan and while the manager insists that is a “distraction rather than a problem,” the 19—year-old may find it hard to add to his ten starts until he signs on the dotted line and commits himself to a future on the Keegan Express. His natural replacement Negouai had to wait more than five minutes for his first touch in English football during which time the home side, performing in front of Fratton Park’s first sell-out of the season, should have taken the lead.
City’s best forward moments in a dull opening quarter were provided by the Algerian, who was twice denied by the last Pompey boot when attempting to put through the two Shauns, Wright-Phillips and Goater. The third time Manchester’s magician tried his luck he put Darren Huckerby clear but the striker, with all the time in the world, poked the ball past Japanese keeper Yoshi Kawaguchi and the far post. lf that miss bothered Huckerby then it didn’t show two minutes later as he headed the Blues into the lead. Benarbia, busily establishing himself as the games dominant force, pulled the ball back from the corner flag on the right flank for Richard Dunne to whip in a wicked first- time cross that the flying Huckerby headed home via the inside of the post.
Just when everything appeared to be going the way of Keegan’s side, they lost 20—goal leading marksman Goater to an ankle injury It gave Mike his first taste of senior soccer and he almost made a dream start three minutes from the break when he saw his volley from a Steve Howey through-ball brilliantly turned aside by Kawaguchi.
When Pompey did get an effort on target Weaver easily picked Gary O’Neil’s long-range effort out of the air There was tangible despondency in the home ranks until, that is, former City striker Lee Bradbury did what he does best – score against the Blues. O’Neil was the architect with a deep 54th minute cross from the right and Bradbury ghosted in unattended at the back post to squeeze a diving header into the corner.
City finally broke out of their second-half shell in the 70th minute when Dunne broke from midfield and put Huckerby in the clear, only for Kawaguchi to again win the one on one battle.
The tide had firmly turned in Pompey’s favour and they took full advantage in the 77th minute when the giant Crouch muscled his way on to Prosinecki’s deflected cross and bundled home his 12th of the season.
There was one last throw of the dice via Huckerby’s shot on the turn but again Kawaguchi won that battle, the decisive one of the afternoon.
FROM MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS BY CHRIS BAILEY AND PAUL HINCE