Tottenham 3 Portsmouth 1
Tottenham’s late show made sure that Harry Redknapp’s first game back at the helm for Portsmouth ended in anguish tonight.
Egyptian striker Mido converted a harshly-awarded late penalty after referee Uriah Rennie gave handball against Gary O’Neil seven minutes from time, and substitute Jermain Defoe finished his own barren scoring run in the dying seconds.
Redknapp now knows the full extent of his task to steer Pompey, second from bottom, out of the Barclays Premiership relegation zone.
But he knows for sure he has players who will fight to the finish for him.
He picked nine survivors from his first reign, which ended a year ago, and somehow they survived a near non-stop grilling by Tottenham for more than 80 minutes.
But after shocking their hosts with a goal after four blanks in previous matches, Pompey were denied a famous victory in Harry’s homecoming.
Redknapp, who lost 5-1 with Southampton at Tottenham in his first away match with them a year ago, looked the miracle worker as Lomana LuaLua’s spectacular 24th-minute strike put Portsmouth ahead.
And such was the grit and determination of their defending that it was not until 12 minutes into the second half that Spurs skipper Ledley King headed an equaliser from Michael Carrick’s corner.
It was largely a one-sided, ill-balanced game with Spurs making almost all the running, but long before the end they were tossing long balls into the penalty area aimed at Mido and were forced to bring on Defoe for Robbie Keane in the last 20 minutes, hoping the England striker would end his goal drought which had lasted since September.
When Andy Reid also came on as a substitute for another one, Wayne Routledge, his first touch was a free-kick which seemed to strike O’Neil on the hand, but Rennie felt the contact was deliberate and pointed to the spot and Mido drove home.
Defoe celebrated his first goal in three months right at the end but the end result was flattering to Spurs, who lacked creativity against a side imbued most with effort and spirit.
LuaLua’s finish was stunning, but England number one Paul Robinson should have saved it. And what surprised most was that fourth-placed Tottenham were not well in control by that 24th minute. He made amends with a marvellous save from Matt Taylor at 1-1 in the second half.
Spurs should have been ahead in three minutes but Keane’s effort was tame and straight at goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown after the Portsmouth defence virtually ushered the Irishman, still preferred to Defoe, through a malfunctioning offside trap.
It became a siege as Pompey, just two previous wins all season, employed only the willing Vincent Pericard, back early from loan at Sheffield United, as a designated striker and dropped back in numbers to guard the edge of their own penalty area.
There was no stopping a lovely run by Edgar Davids in the 11th minute, though. The Dutchman tricked his way past two opponents to feed Mido, whose shot was well held by Ashdown.
Portsmouth’s luck was in again when Davids won the ball and set up Keane, whose shot was too near the goalkeeper to cause real anxiety six minutes later.
Little was seen of Pompey as an attacking force in the first 24 minutes but their defenders and midfielders tackled like demons.
Amazingly they went in front with a spectacular strike by LuaLua, who drilled in a shot from O’Neil’s crossfield pass from 25 yards. It flew past Robinson in the 24th minute and the DR Congo star did his trademark treble flip to celebrate this most unpredictable turn of events.
It should have been 2-0 a few minutes later but Pericard fatally delayed his shot and was crowded out as he penetrated the penalty area.
Spurs took a deep breath and tried to hit back but Keane’s header was way off target after he lost his marker and Mido poked just wide in a scramble before the half-time whistle, following two half-hearted penalty claims when the Egyptian went down under challenge by first Linvoy Primus and then Dejan Stefanovic.
Few thought they would have had to wait until so late after King’s unstoppable equaliser to close out the game, but there was certainly a touch of fortune about the decisive penalty.