Three Manchester City players wore "Team Bridge" T-shirts beneath their jerseys yesterday, in solidarity with one of their number who is not one of the most gregarious and assertive of Roberto Mancini's squad, but for whom the anxieties created by John Terry's relationship with Bridge's former girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel are all too real.
Wayne Bridge is understood to be anxious for more access to the three-year-old son he had with Ms Perroncel and that sentiment is far more acute following the profile afforded revelations of her affair with the England captain. Bridge was in Manchester on Friday when he was informed by City staff that the story was about to break, so his team-mates will know how it has affected him. Nigel de Jong, who looks more of a future City captain with every game, may have been the player who decided the T-shirts were appropriate.
Carlos Tevez and Stephen Ireland wore them too, though Gareth Barry's decision to desist may come as relief to Terry, with Fabio Capello assessing the effect of the episode on his players before deciding who will be his future captain. The support certainly reflects this player's popularity. "Wayne is a fantastic player. a very, very good defender, the players are very, very close to him," City manager Roberto Mancini said last night.
Bridge is not the only one suffering, though. Portsmouth's plight deepens by the day and after failing to appear at his press conference last night, Avram Grant was inconclusive about his future when providing his obligatory brief TV interview. "We were living day to day; now we are living hour to hour," he said. "As long as we are here, we will do our best." Having already lost Younes Kaboul to Tottenham to help pay the players' wages for last month, Grant today faces the prospect of Asmir Begovic heading to Stoke, with his club now six points off safety. "I don't want that," he said of a Begovic move. "I have said it before. When I came here, we said that we would keep with the same squad and maybe add players."
The contrasts with City were blinding, with Mancini's side heading into the close of the transfer window hopeful of concluding a £7m transfer today for Parma's Kenya international midfielder McDonald Mariga. The deal will see Valeri Bojinov's loan move to Parma becoming permanent. City are pessimistic about the prospects of bringing Middlebrough's England's Under-21 winger Adam Johnson to the club, though they will work to the end on it.
The only member of the Portsmouth side in the pink – wearing a very bright kit – was David James, and there was a small mercy in Grant being able to muster a full substitutes' bench, which is more than he managed in their last game. But it is a sign of how Grant has maintained the spirit Paul Hart engendered that Pompey had not lost a game in January, and certainly looked more capable than City during a first half in which Mancini's side should have conceded both a goal and a penalty inside the first seven minutes. John Utaka somehow managed to lift his half-volley way over the bar and City's good fortune extended to Javier Garrido's barge into the back of Danny Webber in the area going unnoticed.
"We didn't play very well," Mancini said. The exertions of Old Trafford last Wednesday "probably" took it out of his players he added. "We started the game very slowly, moved the ball very slowly."
Grant's usual funereal black garb had rarely seemed more appropriate though, and there was loser's luck about City's two goals in the last five minutes of the first half. Emmanuel Adebayor looked fractionally offside when he scored his seventh goal in 14 games, exquisite though the goal was when the Togolese took down Stephen Ireland's lofted 30-yard ball with his right foot, and lashed it out of the long shadows cast across the pitch by the winter sunshine into James's net. Vincent Kompany also seemed to have marginally impeded Tal Ben-Haim when he rose above him to head home Martin Petrov's corner in first-half injury time.
The second half did not get much better. Webber missed another sitter after Angelos Basinas' shot was parried out to him by Given, though Craig Bellamy finally injected some energy when he arrived 17 minutes from time, cutting in past Basinas and crossing for Tevez whose sharp left-foot shot struck James' right post.
Bridge, who was not at Eastlands yesterday, will resume training today and may have recovered from knee ligament trouble in time to face Bolton, a week tomorrow. City travel to Chelsea on 27 February, when an encounter with Terry will create theatre of an unwelcome kind.
Manchester City (4-1-3-2) Given; Zabaleta (Onuoha, 3) Touré, Kompany (Boyata, 59), Garrido; De Jong; Petrov (Bellamy, 73) Ireland, Barry; Tevez, Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Wright-Phillips, Taylor (gk), Sylvinho, Bellamy, Ibrahim.
Portsmouth (4-3-3) James; Vanden Borre, Ben-Haim, Wilson, Hreidarsson (Finnan, 27); Mullins (Owusu-Abeyie, 85), O'Hara, Basinas; Boateng, Utaka, Webber (Piquionne, 77). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Hughes, Ritchie, Sowah
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
Booked: Manchester City De Jong; Portsmouth Wilson, Basinas, Boateng.
Man of the match: De Jong