Harry Redknapp sent on the first of his substitutes on Saturday with the atmosphere at Villa Park turning a mite, well, villainous – what with the locals screaming dog's abuse in his direction, with Mike Riley having one of his Mavis Riley afternoons, and with the unruly contest veering on the physical side of feisty. Thankfully for the Portsmouth manager, his No 27 came to no harm. Yes, there was no Kanu accident, faked or otherwise.
Redknapp is, of course, facing the looming loss of Nwankwo Kanu and four members of his starting line-up from Saturday (Sulley Muntari, Benjani Mwaruwari, John Utaka and Papa Bouba Diop) to the African Cup of Nations. Having risen to the baiting by the Villa fans, delivering a Churchillian salute to the Holte End and a three-fingered variation to those behind the dug-out, he is also facing more of the same torment on the road – plus possibly more grief from the police investigations that prompted his recent arrest and the taunts on Saturday.
In the meantime, the Portsmouth manager is managing very nicely, thank you. For much of Saturday's game his team played with the poise of a unit that would be comfortably at home on the Champions League stage, such was the assurance of their passing and movement and their ease in possession. They had the end product to match, too: notably thanks to the potent left foot of Muntari, their Ghanaian midfielder, which fired rasping beauties past Scott Carson in either half.
Pompey are on a serious roll: six successive wins on the road and 11 matches unbeaten in the Premier League. All of which must be a blessed release for Redknapp from his off-the-field tribulations. "It is," he said. "It is... I'm still uptight about what's gone on because it's been a disgrace, what's happened to me. I'm disgusted with the way I've been treated. There's no way that I'm going to stand back and let what's happened to me... happen. Not a chance. I'll take it all the way."
Whether Redknapp can take Portsmouth all the way into Europe remains to be seen. The manner in which he has transformed them from Premier League makeweights into European qualification contenders, however, is deserving of due recognition. "I'm not interested in the England job anyway – I want to manage at Portsmouth – but I'm not as good as the other people getting a mention," he said, lapsing into irony. "I know I'm not as good as Jürgen Klinsmann. You've got to look at his record over the years. He's been a fantastic manager for the last 15-20 years. I don't deserve to get a mention in the same breath as these people. I just keep turning the football club around again, like I have before, and keep winning football matches."
Perhaps it would be different if Redknapp were not perceived, as he mentioned last week, as "some sort of Cockney barrow boy". The taunts on Saturday certainly struck a raw nerve. In the immediate aftermath the Portsmouth manager seethed about "fans with kids shouting filth". Later, though, he was more sanguine.
"It don't bother me," Redknapp insisted. "I feel sorry for people. It's sad, really. If that's all people have got to do, they've got sad lives haven't they? They're the last of my problems."
Goals: Gardner og (10) 0-1; Muntari (40) 0-2; Muntari (61) 0-3); Barry pen (72) 1-0.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Knight, Laursen, Bouma (Berger, 54); Gardner (Harewood70), Reo-Coker, Barry, Young; Agbonlahor, Carew. Substitutes not used: S Taylor (gk), Davies, Maloney.
Portsmouth (4-1-4-1): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Pamarot; Mendes; Utaka (Kanu, 65), Diop, Muntari, Kranjcar (M Taylor, 89); Mwaruwari. Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Hreidarsson, Nugent.
Referee: M Riley (W Yorks).
Booked: Villa Berger, Carew. Portsmouth James, Johnson, Pamarot, Mendes, Kranjcar
Man of the match: Muntari