(match report written for Portsmouth vs Everton, 1 Dec 2007)
After the events of the last week, it was no surprise that the interest in Everton’s fixture against Portsmouth on Saturday was not the Toffee’s impressive recent form.
Harry Redknapp’s arrest on Thursday by the City of London police as part of their investigation into allegations of corruption in football ensured the spotlight was on the Pompey manager and his team but with Everton continuing their now eight match unbeaten run, that will do just fine.
There was little of the sparkling attacking football that both teams have shown in recent fixtures as two sides in direct competition for European places cancelled each other out, but considering Portsmouth’s unbeaten home record and ten match unbeaten run it will go down as another successful weekend for David Moyes’ side.
Redknapp was considered to be one of the major candidates for the vacant England job and while his chances may be reduced by his association with the ongoing investigation, he has built a very competent football team on the south coast.
At times the flair of Niko Kranjar and the excellent Sulley Muntari threatened to overwhelm Everton, but the Toffees were excellent defensively with the partnership of Joseph Yobo and Joleon Lescott providing an effective barrier to Portsmouth’s forays forward.
Last week it was the Everton attack who earned the plaudits as they plundered seven goals past Sunderland, but the impressive rearguard on Saturday showing suggests Everton are a team with balance and quality all over the pitch.
There have been doubts over whether Lescott and Yobo could play together without an experienced head like Alan Stubbs to organise the defence but with each game the pair seem to develop more of an understanding.
Lescott has struggled for form since his early season goalscoring exploits, but leading the back four at Fratton Park he showed the quality that lead to his call up by McClaren to the national team.
Vociferously backed by a home crowd determined to show their support to their beleaguered manager, it was Portsmouth who dominated the first half with Sulley Muntari constantly finding himself with the space around the Everton box to try his luck with long range efforts.
The Ghana international also came close with two free-kicks, the first evading Papa Boupa Diop head for a likely goal and the second crashing off the top of the cross bar as the first half drew to a close.
Tim Cahill’s return to the Everton midfield has been successful and borne six goals from seven starts but the side of his game that means he commits needless fouls remains a weakness in tight away fixtures such as these.
With a lenient referee and home backing, his niggling style can work to the team’s advantage, but his rash tackle on Muntari on 30 minutes meant a booking from Peter Walton and diminished his impact on the game.
Steven Pienaar too was booked for a challenge on the lively Kranjar and was lucky to stay on the pitch after several frustrated fouls.
After a half of Portsmouth dominance, Andrew Johnson’s introduction after 52 minutes gave Everton the impetus to go and make a stake for the points and Leon Osman should have done better when he failed to control in the box with only David James to beat.
There were not enough superlatives to shower the performance of Mikel Arteta last week but he was largely anonymous on an afternoon where the midfield seemed to struggle, with only the hard-working Lee Carsley shining in the Everton quintet.
However, James had to be on his guard on the hour when Arteta’s free-kick was saved comfortably.
An altercation between Sol Campbell and the substitute Victor Anichebe threatened to liven the game up but the situation was defused without the referee having to book any players.
In the frantic final minutes, Portsmouth almost clinched the win when Kranjar’s drive was parried by Tim Howard, but Joleon Lescott slid in to put the ball out for a corner when Kanu seemed certain to pounce.
Another point on the road for Everton against a good side as they enter the busy Christmas period bodes well for the rest of the season, but the Toffees will need to recreate the attacking form they displayed last week if they are to continue their climb up the table towards the European places.