Fratton Park is 336 miles away from Wearside and there were times yesterday when a first Portsmouth victory under Tony Adams appeared just as far away.
But a combination of David James, the woodwork and Sunderland's plummeting self-belief enabled Portsmouth to come back from Djibril Cissé's potentially devastating fourth-minute goal. Then in the 90th minute El-Hadj Diouf's recklessness kicked in allowing Jermain Defoe to secure all the points from the penalty spot. Pompey's win came wrapped in red and white ribbons.
"I love winning," said Adams, "take it any style – playing well, playing badly. Of the four games I've been in charge, this was the worst performance. But I'm all right, results are results, I've a job of work to do. It's a good result today, I believe in this team."
After 20 minutes Adams's belief looked misplaced. He was pacing the yards outside his dugout, face drawn and frustration at his players obvious. Portsmouth were one down and lucky it was not double that. Kieran Richardson struck a post after Cissé's opener and Sunderland were dominant. But goals are Sunderland's problem. They have 10 from their 12 games and while Cissé scored one, it should have been more. Portsmouth were there for the taking but Cissé is no mauler. Kenwyne Jones, who suffered a recurrence of his knee injury in training on Friday, was badly missed.
This was not Adams' concern, of course, and there was no mention of sympathy for Roy Keane from Adams. Keane is not likely to get much from Sunderland fanseither. This was a third consecutive defeat and the last seven games have yielded just five points. Keane does not consider his spending excessive but in the context of Sunderland's recent past it is. The fans have enormous respect for Keane but this is relegation form and in the space of a fortnight the euphoria of the victory over Newcastle has been lost. Defeats at Stoke, Chelsea and now this have eroded goodwill and that is sure to be reflected in the attendance for the League Cup tie here against Blackburn on Wednesday.
"Bad finishing, good goalkeeping, who knows? asked Keane. "It's difficult to take because we gave them a helping hand." He described Diouf's challenge on Glen Johnson for the penalty as "a striker's tackle". Keane's tone was calm but inside he must be worried. Despite the comfort of that early goal there was a lack of urgency, perhaps born of doubt. This was especially evident in the second half.
Andy Reid created the goal for Cissé, though Sol Campbell's diffident role did not go unseen. Reid's 40-yard pass set Cissé running but Campbell was expected to usher him wide. Instead Cissé zipped away, ran straight at James and slid the ball through the keeper's legs. A more confident Sunderland team would have buried Ports-mouth. But James made two fine saves and half-time gave the visitors respite. Six minutes later, Nadir Belhadj took Nico Kranjcar's pass and belted a low shot beyond Marton Fulop.
For a game in the balance, the next 40 minutes were remarkably undramatic. Then with the clock showing 89:50, Johnson ran at Diouf and tumbled over. Defoe's penalty was emphatic and Adams has his victory.